Another fight brews over tougher, Quebec-wide pit bull ban

Three months after Montreal suspended its ban on pit bull-like dogs, the Quebec National Assembly is forging ahead with a more aggressive ban would will apply to every part of the province and will be much more difficult to remove.

A wider-reaching provincial bill is now moving forward, months after Montreal lifted its ban

Quebec's National Assembly will begin consultations this Tuesday on Bill 128, which would prohibit pit bulls, rottweilers, and their crossbreeds. (Getty Images/EyeEm)

Three months after Montreal suspended its ban on pit bull-like dogs, the Quebec National Assembly is forging ahead with a more aggressive, provincewide ban that, if passed, would be much more difficult to repeal.

For Lise Vadnais, Bill 128's progress is a second chance to get rid of the dogs. She will be among the first to speak when bill is discussed in committee hearings this week.

"It's a serious bill. They wouldn't put so much time and energy into a bill to decide in the end that there is no reason for it."

Her sister, Christiane, was mauled to death in 2016 by her neighbour's dog, which DNA has identified as being 87.5 per cent American Staffordshire terrier, one of the breeds commonly referred to as a pit bull.

Lise Vadnais' sister, Christiane, died in the summer of 2016 when she was attacked by a dog in her backyard. She will testify in favour of Bill 128 at a National Assembly committee hearing. (Radio-Canada)

Vadnais says she had trouble accepting the news when Montreal announced it was suspending its bylaw that prohibited residents from adopting new pit bull-type dogs and forced current owners to get permits.

Former Montreal mayor Denis Coderre had championed it in large part as a reaction to her sister's death. However, newly elected Valérie Plante dissolved those restrictions last December.

"I was extremely disappointed. I could not bring myself to believe it," she said.

"I hoped until the very last minute that [Plante] wouldn't do it."

A provincewide ban on more dogs

Bill 128 has been sitting stagnant on the National Assembly's order paper since it was introduced last April, feeding speculation that the Liberals might shelve it.

However, the Couillard government has suddenly started to drive the proposed legislation forward in its last session before the next election.

If it passes as it is currently written, the bill would prohibit everyone in Quebec from owning three breeds associated with pit bulls — American pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers and Staffordshire bull terriers — as well as Rottweilers and any cross of those breeds.

Those who already own those animals would be allowed to keep them.

Otherwise, they can be fined up to $5,000 and their dogs could be euthanized, sold, or given to an animal shelter.

The bill also legislates in ways that Montreal's bylaw left untouched. It gives the province the power to ban new breeds at any time and compels doctors and veterinarians to report any dog that has injured either a person or another pet.

Valerie Plante's administration lifted the Montreal bylaw prohibiting pit bulls in Dec. 2017, soon after she was elected mayor. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

"The fact that we suspended the breed ban in Montreal means nothing if the bill goes through," said Sabrina Sabbah, founder of the Coalition to Promote the Safety of People and Canines (CPSPC).

Her group was active in the fight against the Montreal bylaw. Now, Sabbah is staring down a bigger challenge, and says she is having trouble rallying some of her past supporters.

"They think that because it was suspended in Montreal, that BSL [breed-specific legislation] can't happen on a provincial level, which is wrong," she said.

"Some of us are exhausted, right? Which is normal. It's been two years and other people feel invincible and feel its not going to go through."

A law with staying power

The law could be struck down, changed or repealed, but the process isn't as simple at the provincial level as it is at the city level.

While a city bylaw can be attacked in court on grounds that it is unreasonable or doesn't reflect the powers of the city, a provincial law can only be struck down if it violates the Charter of Rights or the Constitution, says lawyer Julius Grey.

"It's a particularly dangerous thing," he said.
Lawyer Julius Grey says a provincial law will be harder to challenge in court than a municipal bylaw. (CBC)

And changing or repealing a provincial law is a longer, more arduous process compared to a bylaw.

The Projet Montréal administration was able to remove the parts of the bylaw that banned pit bull-type dogs after one executive committee meeting.

Laws can only be changed or revoked with the introduction of a new bill, which would mean the entire legislative process would start over.

Ontario's ban survived a challenge that made its way to the province's top court. Enacted in 2005, it's now been on the books for 13 years.

Vadnais takes comfort in the staying power the Quebec bill could have.

"Once the law is adopted, it will be easier for everyone and they won't be able to withdraw it the next day," she said.

With files from Radio-Canada, Brennan Neill