UPDATE: Coderre’s plan was adopted by Montreal City Council with a vote of 37 in favour and 23 against on September 27, 2016
On June 8, 2016, fifty-five year old Christiane Vadnais was found dead, mauled by a dog in Pointe-Aux Trembles. Under pressure from outraged citizens, Montreal City Hall reacted, and on June 18th, Mayor Denis Coderre announced that he would ask the city council to approve a ban on new pit bulls. Ten days later, on June 18, 2016, Coderre’s office issued a communiqué detailing his plan to ban pit bulls and other “dangerous breeds” of dogs starting September 2016.
Coderre’s plan would allow existing pit bull owners to keep their dogs provided they sterilize them and put a muzzle on them in public. It also includes working with the police to sensitize the public to the ban and create “canine squads” to meet with pitbull owners and remind them of the bylaw. In defense of the ban, Coderre said :
“Responsibility for one’s animal is an obligation,”
In light of all the debate regarding whether or not certain dog breeds are more dangerous than others it’s time to take a step back and look at the laws regarding dog ownership in Canada.
In Canada, dog laws are a civil and municipal matter, meaning that complaints regarding dogs and dog owners fall under the jurisdiction of individual cities and provinces. In Quebec, article 1465 of the Civil Code says that:
“The owner of an animal is bound to make reparation for injury it has caused, whether the animal was under his custody or that of a third person, or had strayed or escaped.”
The law also says that anyone making use of the animal is liable with the owner for the damage it caused.
That means that if an animal – which could be a dog, cat, or even a tarantula – is under your care or that of a third party, you can be sued for any damages to property or harm to people or animals caused by that animal. The only way to avoid being held responsible is to prove that what the animal did is in no way your fault as an owner or guardian.
That could mean proving the victim didn’t take any reasonable precautions to protect against the animal’s behavior, showing that it was the fault of a third party, or that what happened was an Act of God i.e. the hurricane lifted your dog up and smashed it so hard against your neighbor’s house that it broke a window. The burden of proof in these cases is on the plaintiff, the one who claims your animal caused the damage, but this same burden is a lot lower. Unlike in criminal cases, all the plaintiff has to prove is that your animal more likely caused the damage and not beyond a reasonable doubt.
Municipal rules are another matter.
In the City of Montreal the current bylaws regarding animal ownership are very specific about owners’ obligations. The bylaws – which, while listed separately for each borough from Ahuntsic-Cartierville to Villeray-Saint-Michel- Parc-Extension, are all virtually identical – have a concise list of actions by animals that are considered to be public nuisances for which the owner can be held liable. As per the bylaws, nuisances by animals include damages to other people’s property, biting another animal or a person, and barking, howling or screaming loud enough to disturb the peace.
If an animal has caused a public nuisance, the owner is considered in violation of the bylaw. If you’re found guilty of violating animal control bylaws the penalty could be anything from a fine to your dog being put in the pound or even euthanized.
Fines range from one hundred to four thousand dollars depending on whether it’s a first, second, or third offense. If your dog is put in the pound, you can claim it in three days, providing you pay the pound fees.
A dog that bites people has to be muzzled in public for ninety days following the complaint. Whether a dog is put down or not is at the discretion of the City, which can order the animal to be euthanized if the authorities believe it is a danger to public health and safety. Once the order has been issued, the owner must bring the animal to a pound or vet to be put to death.
The problem with existing laws about animal control is that they only work after someone has gotten hurt. There are rules about leashes and muzzles but not everyone obeys them and police have better things to do than write tickets for dog owners. It is only when a child gets bitten or someone dies that the authorities intervene.
Coderre’s proposed change to existing bylaws is trying to prevent something that cannot be predicted. The notion that certain species of dogs are more prone to violence is highly debated, even outside circles of bleeding hearts.
With new evidence proving that the dog that killed Christiane Vadnais was not a pit bull and owners swearing to move if the ban is imposed, the only question that remains is whether the ban will go forward or City Hall will admit defeat and walk away from the proposed ban with its tail between its legs.
* Featured image: dawn.com Creative Commoms