Coroner's report into fatal dog attack calls breed-specific legislation 'disappointing'

A coroner's report is calling into question the breed-specific ban that followed the death of Christiane Vadnais, who was attacked by a dog, and says the owner's treatment of the dog likely led to its poor socialization and aggressive behaviour.

Report says owner poorly treated dog, municipality should have followed up after 2015 attack

A coroner's report into the death of Christiane Vadnais, left, calls Montreal's ban of pit bull-type dogs 'disappointing'. (Facebook)

A coroner's report is calling into question the breed-specific ban that followed the death of Christiane Vadnais, who was killed by a dog in 2016, and says the owner's treatment of that dog likely led to its poor socialization and aggressive behaviour.

The report, written by coroner Dr. Ethan Lichtblau, calls Montreal's ban of pit bull-type dogs "disappointing" because it condemns all dogs of those breeds, without taking into account how they were raised.

"We have a problem here. We're passing these laws and that's it, that's all, 'Everything is good, nothing here under the hood', but that's not true," Lichtblau told CBC News.

In his report he says the type of law introduced in Montreal has not been found to decrease attacks and is usually a decision that follows a highly publicized attack, fuelled by fear. 

Montreal's bylaw has been the subject of protest, including one held last fall in front of City Hall. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Lichtblau says a law that targets pet owners, similar to legislation enacted in Laval and Calgary, may be more effective.

Results of a DNA test cited in the report found the dog was 87.5 per cent American Staffordshire Terrier, a breed associated with pit bulls. But the report stopped short of labelling the dog a pit bull.

He also calls for education that would inform the public about how to behave around dogs, including not leaving children up to six years old unattended around the animals. 

Lichtblau's report cites studies that have found 50 per cent of dog attacks are on children and 75 per cent of them are by unsterilized male dogs. He notes that a dog can be aggressive and violent regardless of its breed.

'A tragic combination of events'

Vadnais, 55, was attacked by a dog in her Pointe-aux-Trembles backyard in June 2016. A neighbour saw the dog biting her and called police.

When police arrived, the black and white dog's harness and muzzle were hanging around its neck.

It lunged at one of the officers with its mouth open, only backing off when the officer hit it with a bar, but continued to bark aggressively, the report said. 

Police ultimately shot the dog, killing it.

Lichtblau confirms the dog caused Vadnais's death. She lost a considerable amount of blood in the attack and went into shock, then cardiac arrest.

The report said Vadnais was likely dead by the time police arrived.

The coroner said it was "a tragic combination of events" that led to Vadnais's death, including that the dog had been left alone since 7 a.m. that morning, its muzzle wasn't tied properly, the door wasn't closed all the way and there was a hole in owner's fence.

Garbage, dog feces and chewed-up water bottles were strewn across the floor where the dog named Lucifer lived, according to the report. Neighbours also said they had never seen this dog out on walks in the neighbourhood.

History of violence

The dog's owner, who has been identified as Franklin Junior Frontal, would leave Lucifer alone for long periods of time — sometimes locking it in its cage for up to eight hours. He seldom gave it walks or socialized it with other dogs, Lichtblau said.

In a phone interview Monday, Lichtblau said that in his declaration to police the day of the attack, Frontal "seemed to be portraying himself as the good dog owner, who's taking care of his dog, but all of the facts on the ground contradict that."

In the report, Lichtblau also said the municipality of Pointe-aux-Trembles should have followed up after the dog attacked two people in 2015.

From what he could tell in his investigation, it did not, "and that's really tragic," he told CBC.

Montreal enacted its bylaw banning pit bull-type dogs last year. (Humane Society of Chittenden County)

Despite telling police that he took good care of his dog, Frontal admitted to them after the attack that his pet had a history of violence. He blamed Lucifer's behaviour on trust being attacked by other dogs as a puppy.


Lichtblau recommended the provincial ministry of public security add provisions to its proposed animal control law, Bill 128, including:

  • A central registry to log dog attacks.
  • A sterilization law, no matter the breed.
  • Provisions to describe dogs or their owners, or a combination of both, as dangerous or potentially dangerous.
  • The formation of animal control teams in municipalities.
  • Accompanying awareness campaigns on canine safety and prevention.

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, who championed Montreal's bylaw banning pit bull-type dogs, reacted to the report Monday, saying, "We made a decision … we believe that this is the thing to do."

"Clearly, that person was killed by a pit bull and I always have feelings for the Vadnais family," Coderre said — adding that the bylaw's grandfather clause that allows owners who already have pit bulls to keep them as long as they get a permit. 

"It's a balanced approached and that's the way to do it," he said.

With files from Elias Abboud