Muzzle your pit bull: Appeal court lifts suspension of pit bull restrictions in Montreal

As part of the Quebec Court of Appeal decision, the City of Montreal has agreed not to apply certain provisions of its bylaw until a Superior Court hearing on its merits early next year. But pit bulls and pit-bull type dogs must be muzzled when outdoors.

City agrees not to apply bylaw provisions that could cause 'irreparable harm' for now, but muzzles required

Owners of pit bull-type dogs in Montreal will now have to abide by the city's animal control bylaw, following an appeal court ruling. (CBC)

The court-ordered suspension of the pit bull restrictions under Montreal's controversial new animal control bylaw has been overturned by the Quebec Court of Appeal.

The City of Montreal had appealed a lower court suspension of those restrictions, granted back in October. 

In its decision, the panel of three justices ruled that courts must err on the side of assuming laws are adopted in the public interest. 

What qualifies as a pit bull?

The city has defined pit-bull type dogs as:

  • Staffordshire bull terriers.
  • American pit bull terriers.
  • American Staffordshire terriers.
  • Any mix with these breeds.
  • Any dog that presents characteristics of any of the above.

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre said he was pleased with the decision.

"This is an important victory that proves the validity of the regulations put in place by our administration and the need to regulate the possession of dogs that can pose a danger," Coderre said in a statement. 

City agrees to avoid 'irreparable harm'

As part of the appeal court's decision, the City of Montreal has agreed not to apply certain provisions of its bylaw until a Superior Court hearing on its merits early next year. 

The city has agreed not to euthanize any pit bull-type dogs, unless they are found to be dangerous or show signs of becoming dangerous, or if they are stray, sick or badly hurt. 

Shelters will also be allowed to return lost pit bulls to their owners as long as they do not fall into the dangerous or at-risk dog categories.

Both exceptions were advised by the appeal court panel, which ruled that they were the provisions in the bylaw most likely to cause "irreparable harm."

The city has also agreed that pit bulls can be put up for adoption if they are destined for homes or shelters outside of Montreal. 

Muzzle now required outdoors

Special permits for pit bulls and pit bull-type dogs will now come into effect as well as certain rules that set out standards for the length of leashes and height of fences. 

Owners will have additional time to register their dogs, said the city. The time frame will be decided at the next city council meeting on Dec. 14. 

The city will also apply a new muzzle requirement for pit bulls and pit bull-type dogs. Following the ruling, the city clarified that those dogs will only be muzzled when they are outdoors. 

"The public interest … must take precedence over the anxiety [a muzzle] might cause the animal to suffer," the ruling states.

No date has yet been set for the next stage of the legal proceedings. However, it's expected to take place in early 2017.

Decision 'extremely disappointing': SPCA

Montreal's SPCA called the appeal court ruling "extremely disappointing" but acknowledged the concessions and "state of compromise" that the city has promised to respect.

The SPCA confirmed, however, that its goal remains to fight the bylaw's "discriminatory and punitive provisions" targeting pit bull-type dogs. It said it wants to ensure any new city rules are "evidence-based solutions that actually reduce the risk and severity of dog bites."

The organization said it would also now have to review its existing animal service contracts with 12 Montreal boroughs if those contracts could eventually require the SPCA to euthanize dogs that have done nothing wrong and would make good pets.

"The Montreal SPCA has, at the core of its mission, the protection of all animals, regardless of species or breed. Not being able to find homes for healthy, adoptable and behaviourally-sound dogs and puppies goes against the very essence of what our organization stands for," said Alanna Devine, the SPCA's director of animal advocacy.

Court challenge ahead

Soon after the bylaw was passed in September, the SPCA successfully fought for a temporary suspension of the clauses dealing with pit bull-type dogs in Quebec Superior Court.

In Justice Louis Gouin's decision, he found the provisions dealing with pit bull-type dogs raised numerous red flags and merited further review.

A few days later, the city announced it would appeal the suspension, with Mayor Denis Coderre saying the city won't give in to "threats or interest groups."

In its ruling on Thursday, the Quebec Court of Appeal panel took both sides to task for not advancing further than they have to set a hearing date since the Superior Court ruled it would hear arguments on the bylaw's merits two months ago. 

"Considering the allegations of irreparable harm on both sides, such behaviour is surprising," the ruling states.

The SPCA responded by saying it is eager to set a date.

With files from Ainslie MacLellan