Pit bull ban challenged in court

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MONTREAL – Lawyers for the Montreal SPCA asked a judge Monday to grant an injunction that would suspend parts of the city’s controversial bylaw banning new pit bulls.

The Montreal branch of the animal rights organization argued some of its provisions are discriminatory, unreasonable and unenforceable and will result in all pit bulls being penalized regardless of their behaviour.

City council voted last week in favour of adopting the bylaw despite significant opposition to the ban.

The municipal regulation officially came into effect Monday, prohibiting new pit bulls on the territory of Montreal and placing restrictions on those currently here.

A major issue is how to identify a “pit bull-type dog” as stated in the bylaw.

“The City of Montreal is giving different responses to each person,” SPCA lawyer Marie-Claude St-Amant told the court. “People are worried. They want to know and they don’t know and even the city doesn’t know how to interpret it.”

St-Amant said some owners have been told a veterinary certificate will suffice, while others have been told to get a costly DNA test.

Quebec Superior Court Justice Louis J. Gouin told lawyers he also has certain concerns about the definition of “pit bull-type dogs” and how to properly recognize them.

Rene Cadieux, a lawyer for the City of Montreal, said common sense will be used to apply the bylaw, which states American Staffordshire terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers and American pit bull terriers — or any dogs mixed with those breeds or that bear similar physical characteristics — are part of the ban.

“If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it’s gotta be a duck,” Cadieux said. “And people will look at it from this criteria”

In the case of any disputes — municipal or provincial courts can decide, Cadieux said.

The lawyer pointed the judge toward an Ontario case against that province’s pit bull ban. The Ontario Court of Appeal dismissed the arguments, a decision upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2009.

St-Amant, meanwhile, argued against a blanket muzzling of all pit bulls regardless of their behaviour, noting that muzzling has been proven bad for dogs.

She argued it wouldn’t be a major inconvenience to the city to suspend the law and that not doing so could have major consequences on dogs and owners.

Unadopted pit bulls — or those deemed pit bull-like — now find themselves in legal limbo.

“Dogs like that can’t be put up for adoption,” said St-Amant. “Dogs that are identified as pit-bull like will have to be euthanized. Why? The SPCA is not a sanctuary. We can’t keep dogs forever.”

The SPCA also mentioned that no one knows for sure what breed of dog actually killed a 55-year-old Montreal woman in June.

Police initially told media the dog was a pit bull-type dog, but have since backtracked. The SPCA says, nearly four months later, DNA tests have not come back to confirm the breed.

Gouin seemed surprised the dog had not been positively identified, seeing how that attack and others triggered the debate on pit bulls and the bylaw.

The judge expects to render a decision later this week.