Toronto lawyer to dispute pit-bull ban
Rulings from an Ohio court to be used in legal challenge
To date nobody has been charged under the new legislation
Mar. 15, 2006. 09:15 AM
Toronto lawyer Clayton Ruby will fight Ontario's pit-bull ban using an Ohio court decision that struck down a similar law in that state.
"It's not often that one gets to start a constitutional challenge here with a little help from our friends in the States, but we thought it significant," he told reporters yesterday at his downtown office.
The March 3 decision by the Ohio Sixth District Court of Appeals ruled that a Toledo law allowing residents to own only one pit bull, or "vicious" dog, was unconstitutional. The Ontario law is a complete ban.
But Ruby plans to challenge the Ontario legislation using two key rulings from the Ohio decision. First, since pit bulls aren't inherently dangerous it doesn't make sense to have a law to protect people from them. Second, the definition of pit bull is so vague that people may not know if they're breaking the law.
Ruby will square off with Attorney General Michael Bryant in an Ontario Superior Court May 15 to challenge a ban that has drawn immense criticism from pit-bull owners since it came into effect Aug. 29.
When reached yesterday, Valerie Hopper, a spokesperson for the Ministry of the Attorney General, would not go into detail about the government's case but said, "our position is that this is constitutional and improves public safety for Ontarians."
Canada's first province-wide ban, the Dog Owner's Liability Act, pertains to any dogs that fall under the definition of "pit bulls," including Staffordshire Bull Terriers and American Staffordshire Terriers, as well as dogs that look "substantially similar" to any of the banned breeds.
People who owned pit bulls before the law was introduced can keep them, but the animals have to be neutered and must be on a leash and muzzled in public. All pit bulls born after Nov. 27 have either been shipped out of province or destroyed. Currently, people are not allowed to breed, purchase or import the dogs. Anyone breaking the law faces fines of up to $10,000 for individuals, $60,000 for corporations and six months in jail.
To date, no one has been charged under the new legislation. However, on Monday, a Toronto woman was charged with unlawfully causing bodily harm and common nuisance, a month after her pit bull killed a Shih Tzu dog and attacked his owner. Ruby is going to court on behalf of Catherine Cochrane, a 23-year-old anthropology student from Toronto who wants to breed her two-year-old Staffordshire mix, Chess.
Ruby said yesterday he would introduce evidence from Dr. Timothy Zaharchuk, who was president of the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association when the law was passed.
Zaharchuk argues breed-specific bans don't work, pointing out there are 24 breeds of dogs that are very similar to pit bulls. "Just by looking at a dog you cannot declare it a pit bull — there's no way to verify it genetically," said Zaharchuk.
As in the Ohio case, Ruby said the province's definition of a pit bull is "unconstitutionally vague."
"If you're going to jail as a result of breaching a law, you've got to have the kind of certainty that lets you know whether you're committing an offence."