pit bull ban ontario

Ontario might reverse its controversial ban on Pit Bulls

Doug Ford's PC government is gearing up to consider changing a heavy-handed (and oft-criticized) law restricting Pit Bull ownership within Ontario.

A representative for Attorney General Doug Downey told the Toronto Star late last week that the province "is considering all options" with regards to breed-specific legislation in the Dog Owners' Liability Act — a matter which is expected to come before the legislature in the form of a private member's bill later this year.

It's not the first time someone has tried to fight Ontario's so-called "Pit Bull ban" since it came into effect nearly 15 years ago, but this specific effort to repeal does have the backing of two PC MPPs, which means we might see some movement this time around.

Slammed as discriminatory by dog lovers and veterinary professionals alike, the Pit Bull ban was initiated back in 2005, when Ontario's Liberal government amended the Dog Owners' Liability Act to prohibit Pit Bull Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, American Pit Bull Terriers and any "substantially similar" dogs within the province.

People who owned Pit Bulls at the time were allowed to keep their pets, but with a restricted license that included (and still does include) mandatory muzzling and sterilization.

As it stands now, anyone caught with a Pit Bull that isn't muzzled, leashed, and sterilized can face fines of up to $10,000 plus six months in jail. Breeding, transferring, importing or abandoning Pit Bulls is also strictly forbidden within Ontario.

In the aftermath of a constitutional challenge to the law in 2007, Ontario's Court of Appeal held up the province's decision to ban Pit Bulls on the grounds that they are "dangerous and unpredictable dogs that have the potential to attack without warning."

While true that Pit Bulls have attacked without warning, so have other breeds of dog. And humans, for that matter.

"Our best guesstimate is that this law has resulted in the deaths of over 1,000 dogs that have never done anything to anyone," said Ontario Veterinary Medical Association chief executive Doug Raven to the Star last week.

"You may prevent an attack on someone by a Pit Bull but how many dogs are you willing to kill to prevent the possibility of something happening?" said. "If a dog is dangerous, it's generally going to have to do with how the dog was trained or not trained, temperament and upbringing and so on that is particular to that animal."

Ontario MPPs David Piccini (Northumberland-Peterborough South) and Rick Nicholls (Chatham-Kent-Leamington) agree that singling out a specific breed is not an effective solution to the problem of dog attacks.

Rather, as Raven suggested, legislation should be strengthened to hold irresponsible dog owners accountable and to "ensure appropriate action is taken when an individual dog is deemed to be dangerous."

A petition being circulated by Piccini's team asks that all breed-specific language within the Dog Owners' Liability Act is repealed. Piccini and Nicholls are reportedly working on a bill to make this happen, and will present said bill at Queen's Park in the near future.

"Aggressive behaviour can be found among many breeds or crossbreeds of dogs," reads the petition. "Evidence shows that DNA is never a predictor of aggressive behaviour in dogs."

"The solution to preventing dog-related incidents is best addressed through comprehensive training and education programs, breed-neutral legislation promoting responsible ownership," reads Piccini's petition, as posted to the Toronto Humane Society's website.

"We the undersigned petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to support a bill repealing breed-specific language from the Dog Owner's Liability Act and Animals for Research Act, and instead implement a comprehensive educational prevention strategy that encourages responsible dog ownership of all breeds."

Lead photo by

Polina Gupaliuk

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