Montreal's SPCA will ask the Quebec Superior Court to review the city's new animal control bylaw in a bid to have the sections targeting "pit bull-type dogs" declared illegal.

The SPCA said the action will be presented at the Montreal courthouse on Thursday.

The bylaw, which will ban new ownership of pit bulls and pit-bull type dogs, was passed by city council on Tuesday, and goes into effect Oct. 3.

But the SPCA wants the sections of the new bylaw concerning "pit bull-type dogs" declared illegal on the following grounds:

  • It discriminates by creating additional and punitive obligations for owners and guardians of pit bull-type dogs, which the SPCA argues are not dangerous.
  • It is "vague and imprecise" in its definition of pit bull-type dogs and makes it "impossible to know which dogs fall into this category."
  • It fails to include a means to challenge the designation of a dog as a pit bull-type breed.
  • It contravenes Article 898.1 of the Civil Code of Quebec, which grants animals the status of sentient beings, as well as sections of the Animal Welfare and Safety Act.
  • It is unreasonable that the bylaw treats all pit bull-type dogs as dangerous dogs despite what the agency says is the lack of credible evidence that they are inherently dangerous.

Animal rights advocates have criticized the bylaw, pointing out that many cities that have implemented similar legislation have since repealed the laws.

A spokesperson for the City of Montreal said the municipality has a "well-recognized" right to pass animal control regulations, especially where it concerns the safety of Montrealers.

'Lives of dogs at risk'

Sophie Gaillard, a lawyer with the organization's animal advocacy department, said the lawsuit will ask the Quebec Superior Court to suspend the sections in question while it reviews their legality.

One criteria for a suspension is the urgency of the matter — and Gaillard said that is what the SPCA plans to argue.

"In this case, the lives of dogs are at risk and that's a main argument for urgency in this matter," she said.

Gaillard told Radio-Canada in an interview that determining whether a dog is a pit bull-type is practically impossible when it comes to mixed-breed dogs.

SPCA advocacy director Alanna Devine on bylaw court challenge0:44

Alanna Devine, director of the SPCA's animal advocacy department, said you can't determine a dog's breed based solely on its looks.

"If you can take any dog with short fur and a square head and call them a pit bull, then 90 per cent of any mixed-breed dogs are going to fall under that categorization," she said.

Devine said she's hopeful the court challenge will succeed.

"It just seems kind of unbelievable that our city would adopt legislation that goes against all expertise, all peer-reviewed studies, and the trend around the world," she said.

Gaillard confirmed that the SPCA may stop providing animal services to the 10 Montreal boroughs it currently serves if the court challenge fails, because the new bylaw will result in healthy dogs being euthanized.

2nd court challenge planned

On Tuesday, a Montreal-based coalition of lawyers and experts in animal behaviour said it also will move forward with its plan to launch a court challenge.

"I think it would be a shame if people allowed Montreal to get away with this," lawyer Julius Grey said.

"This is very serious. It's not an object, it's not the right to seize a car — it's a right to take a member of your family and that should not permitted."

What does the bylaw say?

Montreal's bylaw creates two categories of dogs, which would apply to all breeds: at-risk and dangerous. At-risk dogs are those that exhibit aggressive behaviour, such as biting someone. Dangerous dogs are those that have killed someone or are deemed dangerous by an expert. 

Under the new rules, once a dog is deemed to be dangerous, a euthanasia order will be issued for the animal.

The city bylaw defines pit bulls as:

  • Staffordshire bull terriers.
  • American pit bull terriers.
  • American Staffordshire terriers.
  • Any mix with these breeds.
  • Any dog that presents characteristics of one of those breeds.

Those who currently live in Montreal and already own one of those kinds of dogs now have to acquire a special permit in order to keep their pets.

An amendment was made to the bylaw on Tuesday to address concerns that a pit bull would be automatically euthanized when its owner dies. The change allows a dog's licence to be transferred to another person who was living at the same address, a direct family member or a spouse.