Montreal passes controversial pit bull ban

Nearly four months after a brutal dog attack that claimed the life of a Montreal woman, the city has passed its contentious pit bull ban.

'This is going to create a bigger problem than a solution,' says Opposition Projet Montréal

Bless, an American pit bull terrier, is treated to a free grooming session at Pampered Pets in Montreal on Sunday. Montreal city council passed a bylaw Tuesday that would ban new pit bulls in the city. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Nearly four months after a brutal dog attack that claimed the life of a Montreal woman, the city has passed its contentious pit bull ban.

City council voted Tuesday in favour of changes to its animal control bylaw that include a ban on new ownership of pit bull and pit bull-type dogs. The final vote was 37-23 in favour of the ban.

"My duty as mayor of Montreal is making sure I am working for all Montrealers," said Denis Coderre. "And I am there to make sure they feel safe and that they are safe."

The bylaw vote was supposed to take place Monday, but was pushed to Tuesday due to a busy agenda.

The city announced that the new rules, including the ban on new ownership of pit bull or pit bull-type dogs, will go into effect across all 19 Montreal boroughs starting Oct. 3.

Members of Opposition Projet Montréal questioned whether the Coderre administration would be able to enforce the new rules.

"This is going to create a bigger problem than a solution," said Coun. Sterling Downey.

Attack leads to action

Supporters argue the new regulations give priority to human safety over dog safety and that pit bull bans in other jurisdictions decreased the number of severe dog bites.

"A Montreal woman died because someone didn't have control of their dog," said Anie Samson, the city executive committee member in charge of the animal file.

The city had originally intended to update its legislation concerning dangerous dogs by 2018, but plans were accelerated following the mauling death of 55-year-old Christiane Vadnais.

​The dog that attacked her was initially identified as a pit bull, but police now say they are still waiting for DNA test results

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre voted in favour of the ban. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Court challenge planned

The announcement has led a Montreal-based coalition, composed of lawyers and experts in animal behaviour opposed to the ban, to say it will move forward with its plan to launch a court challenge.

"I think it would be a shame if people allowed Montreal to get away with this," lawyer Julius Grey told CBC Montreal's Homerun.

"This is very serious. It's not an object, it's not the right to seize a car — it's a right to take a member of your family and that should not permitted."

Animal rights advocates were also quick to pan the bylaw, pointing out that many cities that have implemented similar legislation have since repealed it.

"We are extremely disappointed with the council's decision to adopt archaic bylaws that are proven to be ineffective," Ewa Demianowicz, campaign manager for Humane Society International/Canada, said in a statement.

Demianowicz said the new law would kill "innocent dogs without any improvement in public safety."

The Montreal SPCA said in a statement it was "disappointed, but not surprised."

"If the city of Montreal truly wanted to ensure public safety, it would not have forced a rushed adoption of controversial legislation which is unfair, unenforceable, and, most importantly, ineffective," the animal protection agency said.

Montreal SPCA threatens to end dog-control services over pit bull ban
Pit bull advocates say the new law will kill innocent dogs without leading to any improvement in public safety. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

The bylaw comes as the Quebec government prepares to introduce legislation of its own. Public Safety Minister Martin Coiteux said the province wouldn't interfere with municipalities that choose to impose stricter rules.

"What's important is that we come up with common standards for the area that make sense, that will actually ensure safety for all. If some towns want to go farther, then I don't see why the Quebec government should stop them," Coiteux said.

What's a pit bull?

The new bylaw will apply to all 19 boroughs and will define pit bulls as:

  • Staffordshire bull terriers.
  • American pit bull terriers.
  • American Staffordshire terriers.
  • Any mix with these breeds.
  • Any dog that presents characteristics of one of those breeds.

Those who now own a dog of those breeds and already live in Montreal will have to acquire a special permit in order to keep their pet by Dec. 31, 2016.

The bylaw also creates two categories of dogs of all breeds: at-risk and dangerous. At-risk dogs are those that exhibit aggressive behaviour, such as biting someone. Dangerous dogs are those that have killed someone or are deemed dangerous by an expert.

"No matter what, if your dog is dangerous, we will be able to act accordingly," Coderre said.

An amendment to the bylaw made Tuesday morning aimed to address concerns that a pit bull would be automatically euthanized when its owner dies. The changes allow the pit bull's licence to be transferred to another person who was living at the same address, a direct family member or a spouse.

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