Montreal's new pit bull bylaw suspended until Wednesday

Quebec Superior Court Justice Louis Gouin has temporarily suspended the ban and restrictions on pit bull-type dogs until he makes a further ruling on Oct. 5.

Temporary suspension means pit bull-type dogs don't have to be muzzled until further notice

City councillor Anie Samson cautioned a ban on pit bulls may not as effective as people may hope — Ontario banned the breed more than a decade ago, but statistics show dog bites in Toronto have increased. (Natalie Nanowski/CBC)

Quebec Superior Court Justice Louis Gouin has temporarily suspended the ban and restrictions on pit bull-type dogs until he makes a further ruling on Oct. 5.

Gouin's ruling comes at the end of full day of arguments by lawyers for the SPCA and the city of Montreal.

It essentially acts as a safeguard to ensure that Montrealers can continue to adopt pit bulls – and pit bull-type dogs don't have to be muzzled – until Gouin makes his decision Wednesday on a longer temporary ban, which would last until the SPCA's challenge of the bylaw is heard in court. 

But while pit bulls won't need to wear a muzzle during the suspension, any dog weighing more than 20 kilograms will still need to wear either a harness or halter. All other bylaws affecting cats and dogs are still in effect.

Lawyers for the SPCA have argued that even though the Supreme Court upheld Ontario's ban on pit bulls, Montreal's new animal control bylaw raises issues not yet heard by the courts.

Some of the issues the SPCA has with the bylaw include its "vague and imprecise" definition of a "pit bull-type dog" and its lack of a means to challenge that classification.

'Do we go back to grandparents?' asks judge

Early in Monday's hearing, Justice Gouin said he had some of his own concerns about the city's pit bull bylaw, echoing issues that the Montreal SPCA has been voicing for weeks.

One of those issues is how a "pit bull-type dog" is defined.

"I won't hide from you that in my reading of the bylaw … I had several questions," he said to the city's legal representative, René Cadieux.

"Are we talking about first generation crosses? Do we go back to the grandparents?"

Muzzles required outdoors, at all times

The SPCA's lawyers, Marie-Claude St-Amant and Sibel Ataogul, smiled and nodded as the judge pointed out the need for clarification in the bylaw.

Gouin also pointed out that the law suggests pit bull-type dogs should be muzzled at all times, which he said is obviously impossible since they need to be able to eat and drink water.

Cadieux said the city meant the dogs should be muzzled at all times when they are outside, adding Montreal will be updating its website and making clarifications for the public.

Cadieux argued there are legal precedents that favour the city's position. He referred to the 2009 decision by the Supreme Court to dismiss an application to hear an appeal of Ontario's ban on pit bulls.

He said Ontario's courts have already established that there is no need for concrete scientific evidence for breed specific legislation. He said the Court of Appeal for Ontario has ruled that it's enough to rely on logic and common sense.

Cadieux says it's the same case here in Montreal.

"If it walks like a duck, if it quacks like a duck, it's got to be a duck." 

Defining 'dangerous dogs'

Ataogul said Monday afternoon the arguments the SPCA is raising were not heard in the Ontario pit bull cases.

She said municipalities only have the right to seize or euthanize "dangerous" dogs or strays.

She said pit bulls don't fall under that definition, arguing it doesn't make sense to apply a blanket rule to all dogs of that type, regardless of their history or individual behaviour. 

"There are plenty of dogs that are large and who could one day bite," Ataogul said.

The bylaw requires owners of such dogs to keep them within an enclosure at least two metres high when not on a leash, however, Ataogul said, it's not clear who would be responsible for building those fences.

Charter case?

The bylaw would also contravene dog owners' rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, she said, pointing out that the new rules allow any competent authority to enter a home without a warrant.

Before closing her case, Ataogul took a shot at the logic that Mayor Denis Coderre has used to justify his bylaw.

The mayor has repeatedly said it's his responsibility to protect Montrealers and that the regulation is about public safety.

However, she said, the ban and restrictions on pit bull-type dogs would in no way make the city a safer place. 

'Sad, but not cruel,' says city's lawyer

The city of Montreal's lawyer argued, in turn, that under Ontario's law, authorities don't need to wait until a dog bites before acting.

Cadieux acknowledged that under Montreal's new bylaw, some "nice" pit bulls will face restrictions.

"It's sad, but not cruel," Cadieux said.

Justice Gouin said it's the vague definition of pit bulls and pit bull-type dogs in the bylaw which he finds most problematic.

 "This is an invitation to rethink the terminology," the judge told Cadieux.

When it comes to identifying a pit bull, "it's like pornography," Cadieux told the court. "You know it when you see it."

Resolution by Wednesday?

Gouin says he wants to rule on the suspension of the bylaw by Wednesday so that citizens can be informed.

"I want this to be a constructive discussion," he told both parties. 

A second court challenge is being planned by a Montreal-based coalition of lawyers and experts in animal behaviour.

Even if one of these legal challenges succeeds in seeing Montreal's new bylaw repealed, Quebec is working on its own provincial legislation.

This summer, Premier Philippe Couillard said Quebec would probably follow Ontario's lead and ban pit bulls.

However, the working group convened by the province recommended against banning pit bulls.