Quebec lawmakers waver on anti-pit bull legislation

Quebec’s main political parties are approaching a proposed province-wide ban on pit bull-like dogs with great caution, despite chomping at the bit two years ago to pass a ban as quickly as possible.

Provincial politicians weigh pros, cons of breed-specific ban after Denis Coderre’s bylaw provoked backlash

Quebec Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux said last week that he is open to making changes to Bill 128, which would ban pit bulls across the province. (CBC)

Quebec's main political parties are approaching a proposed province-wide ban on pit bull-like dogs with great caution, despite chomping at the bit two years ago to pass a ban as quickly as possible.

Committee hearings into Bill 128, tabled more than a year ago, begin this evening.

If passed as is, the legislation would be stricter than the controversial animal control bylaw adopted by former Montreal mayor Denis Coderre in 2016. The municipal bylaw's breed-specific provisions were suspended within weeks of Projet Montréal's victory last fall.

Bill 128 would also prohibit rottweilers and would allow the province to ban new breeds at any time.

However, the Liberals, as well as their main political opponents, are now sounding far more hesitant about passing the breed-specific legislation than they were a year ago.

The major shift in tone comes after Coderre suffered a stunning defeat, at least in part because of the pit bull-type dog ban which became a major issue in the fall election campaign.
Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux, who once said pit bulls would be banned across the province, now says his bill could be amended. (Radio-Canada)

Asked last week whether he would consider removing the breed-specific sections from the bill, Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux said he is keeping an open mind.

"We'll see whether we have to make a few amendments or not," he said, adding he wants to hear from participants at the National Assembly committee hearings first.

"This [bill], in particular, deserves a very open ear," he said.

Opposition parties waver

After Christiane Vadnais was mauled to death in her east-end Montreal backyard by a pit bull-type dog in 2016, both the Parti Québécois and Coalition Avenir Québec made passionate calls to ban pit bulls as quickly as possible.

They tore a strip off the Couillard government for dragging its feet on a matter they said was urgent in order to protect the public.

"It's for the safety of our children and people who walk in the streets. They should not have to worry that they will meet a dog," said CAQ agriculture critic Sylvie D'Amours, the day after Vadnais died.

A year later, a CAQ spokesperson has told CBC News its committee members, too, will listen to the experts appearing at this week's hearings before taking a public stance.

Quebec's two main opposition parties both called for a province-wide ban on pit bulls after Christiane Vadnais, left, died after being attacked by a pit bull-type dog. (Facebook)

In the same vein, the Parti Québécois said last week that it would also listen to those at the hearings, even though it had issued a news release after Vadnais's death, criticizing the Liberals for not moving ahead more quickly with breed-specific legislation.

"Ontario has already legislated to ban pit bulls, and I think we could, or should, do the same thing here in Quebec," said the PQ's municipal affairs critic, Martin Ouellet, in that 2016 statement. "It's about the safety of Quebecers."

Only Québec Solidaire's stance against breed-specific legislation has not changed.

A warning from Montreal?

People on both sides of the debate argue that, in Montreal, the pushback against the Coderre administration's controversial bylaw dealt a blow to Coderre's re-election campaign.

Sabrina Sabbah, founder of the Coalition to Promote the Safety of People and Canines (CPSPC), a group that had fought Montreal's bylaw, was surprised the Couillard government was moving ahead with its bill at all after Coderre's defeat.

"We just felt that since Montrealers had so strongly voiced their opinion at the municipal election, that the provincial government would take that as a warning," Sabbah said.

Christiane Vadnais's sister, Lise Vadnais, however, said Projet Montréal's Valérie Plante exploited the controversy around the pit bull ban.

"Pro-pit bull groups supported Ms. Plante," she said. "She used that to get elected."

People on both sides of the pit bull debate say that a movement against the ban on the breed in Montreal may have contributed to Denis Coderre's defeat in the last municipal election. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

3 days of hearings start today

Lise Vadnais will be one of the first to appear before the National Assembly committee this evening, along with Quebec's Order of Veterinarians.

The coroner who studied Vadnais's death, Dr. Ethan Litchtblau, will appear Thursday. Litchtblau's report contained a scathing critique of Bill 128.

Also appearing Thursday is Bernard Biron, whose daughter Vanessa, then 7, was disfigured in an attack by pit bull-type dogs in Brossard on Montreal's South Shore, and the CPSPC.

Demonstrators opposing a pit bull-type dog ban in Montreal protest outside Montreal City Hall in 2016. The ban became an election issue a year later. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

The group pushed the City of Montreal to speak at the hearings, arguing that the Projet Montréal administration would be uniquely positioned to talk about how difficult a breed-specific ban would be to enforce.

However, the city decided to submit its comments in a written brief instead, the same approach that it's taken recently on the province's cannabis and road safety bills.

PQ public security critic Stéphane Bergeron said that while the Montreal was free to decide whether it wanted to attend, leaders should generally not try to run away from a polarized debate.

"I think they are also, in Montreal, stuck with a problem," he said. "By escaping the debate, I don't think that we [are making a] constructive decision for the future."

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