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Press Conference Oct 15 2004



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Michael Bryant, Attorney General of Ontario

Press Conference Announcing Pit Bull Ban

Friday, October 15, 2004 at 10:00 AM Eastern


Attorney General Michael Bryant:

I have met with the OSPCA, The Ontario Association to Prevent Cruelty to Animals.  I have met with dog trainers, dog breeders, and many dog owners.  We had a special round table with a mix of experts and non-experts, victims, police officers, municipal officials who have dealt with a pit bull ban in Winnipeg & Kitchener-Waterloo.  And I have received thousands of e-mails, more than 5,000 e-mails so far, countless letters, and I can tell you that thousands more e-mails have been sent to MPP's [Members of Provincial Parliament] and the Premier himself.

We have deliberated, but enough is enough of the internal debate and information gathering.  The time has come for a decision and action that's in the best interest of Ontarians.

Pit bulls - BANNED - BANNED - We are banning pit bulls in the province of Ontario!

Within a month, I will introduce legislation that, if passed will ban pit bulls from across this province.  For existing pit bulls, severe restrictions will be put on them province-wide.  They will be muzzled, they must be leashed, and they must be neutered or spayed.  Additional restrictions will be worked out with municipalities between now and the introduction of the bill itself.  The bill will also include tough new restrictions and deterrents and penalties for those irresponsible dog owners of all breeds.

Why are we doing this?

I am convinced that pit bulls are ticking time bombs.  I am convinced that they are inherently dangerous animals.

And for every family that tells me that their pit bull is a pussycat, I'd like to introduce them to the family in Sudbury who regretted that judgment who had a pit bull that they thought was a pussycat that ended up terrorizing their neighbourhood.

I'd like to introduce people who say that pit bulls are like any other dog to the mother in Etobicoke who was playing in her backyard with her kids and her pet only to have a neighbouring pit bull knock her fence over and a 150 pound beast charged her kids.

There are countless stories and of course the one that most recently that horrified Ontarians happened at the end of August.  A man who was practically eaten alive from the ankles up.  Police officers had to use more than a dozen bullets to put these pit bulls down.

These are dangerous animals.  Enough is enough.  We cannot have these animals walking the streets, the fields, or the family rooms of Ontario.

Enough is enough.

This bill, if passed, will ban pit bulls after a transition period, after which no more breeding, selling, purchasing, possessing or importing of pit bulls will be allowed.

No more pit bulls!

For the existing pit bulls, there will be requirements that they be muzzled, that they be leashed, that they be neutered or spayed.  There may be additional restrictions that we place in the legislation, but we're working that out with municipalities because they may want some flexibility themselves in terms of what restrictions they want in their particular municipality.

In addition, we will include new provisions that will deal with irresponsible owners of dogs that attack.  These measures will include new powers of search and seizure including procedures for obtaining warrants. These measures will include increased fines for convictions.  We will be doubling the convictions in the province of Ontario from $5,000 to a maximum of $10,000, the highest fine in the country for irresponsible dog ownership outside of the criminal code.

As well, we will be giving judges the ability to incarcerate people for up to six months for irresponsible dog ownership, again in circumstances that fall outside of our existing criminal laws.  These measures will also include a new provision to deal with menacing dogs.  Right now, our laws only go into effect once dog bites man and I don't think that we should have to wait for the canine tooth to break skin before we intervene and protect Ontarians.  And so we will be giving the courts the ability to put restrictions on dogs, including putting dogs down, that are menacing dogs, so that we get to them before they attack people and their pets.

Now municipalities are the caregiver of pet ownership across Canada.  Municipalities have jurisdiction that we wish to support.  Kitchener and Waterloo have already banned pit bulls.  Windsor recently passed a bylaw to that effect.  So did Winnipeg.  I just want to thank the municipal leaders and I'm going to single out one, Berry Vrbanovic, a Kitchener city councillor from the city of Kitchener who is here today.  Berry was one of the champions of the Kitchener bylaw and as a result of his leadership and the leadership of Mayor Carl Zehr who is very supportive of this province-wide ban, we now know -- let's face it Kitchener-Waterloo, Windsor (most lately), and Winnipeg were leaders.  They led the province, they're leading the country on this issue, and they should be congratulated for this leadership because, as a result of that, we now know that the hypothetical concerns about identifying these pit bulls are, more often than not, just that, hypothetical.  We also know that when you institute a pit bull ban, it does not take long to have no more pit bull problems in your jurisdiction.  That was the experience in Winnipeg, that has been the experience in Kitchener-Waterloo, and that will be the experience in the province of Ontario.

I want to thank all the mayors, municipal officials, police chiefs, police officers, many many many people who assisted us in coming to this conclusion.  We don't want to have a patchwork approach to a pit bull ban that would result if we just had some municipalities banning and some not.  We don't want to have a growth of the pit bull population in Guelph as a result of the ban in Kitchener-Waterloo.  And can you imagine if we had a pit bull ban here in Toronto, as Toronto is proposing and the mayor and the chief are very supportive of this province-wide ban, can you imagine if we had a Toronto ban what that would mean to the pit bull population in Oshawa and Brampton and Mississauga?  It's just not sustainable.  That's why we need a province-wide ban.

I'd like to first introduce Louise Ellis by just saying this:  I received a letter a few weeks ago from Louise.  It was a one-page letter and she said, "This is may last hope".  "Ten years ago, a horrible thing happened to my five-year-old daughter", she said, "and I have some faith that the McGuinty government is going to do something about it, so I'm going to share this with you".  She shared her story and she shared these pictures.  I saw a picture of a five-year-old in a hospital bed with tubes coming out of her with some horrible injuries.  These pictures spoke a thousand words.  She expressed to me that she wanted to share this story and I'm very grateful for her courage in coming to do so, so I'll let you take the microphone, Ms. Ellis, and then afterwards, Mr. Ellis will say a few words and then we'll go to questions.

Louse Ellis:

Good morning.  I would like to thank Attorney General Bryant for allowing me to speak and for also proposing this legislation.  It's been a long time for my family and for my daughter.  Ten years ago, actually ten years ago just past, a lovely evening, a September evening, we were going for a walk along the Danforth and, with some family friends, and ahead was a pit bull with its owner.  The children clearly asked "Is you dog friendly?" and the owner said "Yes".  "Can we pet your dog?"  "Of course".  Unfortunately, the dog was not friendly.  The dog lunged at my daughter and sunk its teeth into her face, causing these injuries [pictures shown].  I stood there with her while the dog had its jaws in her face and he did not let go until she passed out.  At which point, the dog happily wagged his tail and went on provoking and frightening other people.  That had to be the most terrifying, horrific experience of my life and having legislation enacted to rid these beasts from our society, I think, is the right thing to do.  Once again, I'd like to thank you very much.

Mr. Ellis:

I suppose this would be more of a human interest story and a follow-up of what Louise has just said to you.  I'm a police officer with the city of Toronto.  At the time of this occurrence, I hadn't met Louise, who is now my wife.  I went to the station one morning shortly after this happened and saw Lauren's face on the front page of the newspapers.  I was horrified by the damage that such a dog could cause to anyone.  I spoke to my superiors at the time and said, "Look, I don't that the owner of this dog deserved [received?] just punishment or just charges", because I'd read the arrest reports on him and he was charge initially with breach of recognizance.  So, with the blessing of my then staff sergeant, I was detailed to conduct an investigation.  I attended the crown attorney's office, giving him the information that I had at hand.  Some of this information included the fact that this dog had been ordered to be muzzled whenever it was out in public.  The reason the dog had been ordered to be muzzled was because it had attacked another dog and the city bylaws at the time, the muzzle bylaw, was enforced when something like this occurred.  This occurred to me that this was something along the line of criminal negligence causing bodily harm.  I did consult with a crown attorney and, as a result, conducted an investigation in which I did charge the dog owner with criminal negligence causing bodily harm and being a common nuisance.  This went to trial, it was a jury trial.  As a result, the owner pled guilty to being a common nuisance and received a term of one year in jail.  That was my involvement with this.  There was a happy ending as I'm here right now and Louise and I are married, so I guess underneath every grey cloud there's a silver lining.  Thank you.

Michael Bryant:

Thank you both.  Questions?

Question:  What is a pit bull?

Answer:  Well, this has been the experience of Kitchener-Waterloo and Winnipeg, has been that you can define a pit bull and you can identify pit bulls and you need to put the onus of identification on the owners themselves.  They need to produce the papers to prove that this is not a pit bull and if there's some doubt, then basically the municipality decides how they're going to define them and our legislation will set out the breeds and the cross-breeds and be as specific as it can and of course there's going to be some borderline cases, but by and large, it was a pretty straightforward exercise in these other jurisdictions.  From my perspective, if it looks like a pit bull and barks and wags its tail like a pit bull, it's a pit bull.  And so I think that's going to be the experience of municipalities across Ontario and we will see some flexibility there, probably, in some areas, but they have been successful in identifying these dogs.

Question:  How do you enforce this province-wide sterilization program, ordering all current owners to have their dogs spayed and neutered means that there must be some set timeline, so when do they have to have the dogs sterilized by and how will you police that?

Answer:  Well, I think that we will have specific answers when we introduce the legislation.  We're still working with the Association for the Municipalities of Ontario and the city of Toronto to work out those timelines.  We need to able to do this in a way that is feasible and, again, other jurisdictions have been able to do this.  Granted, there has never been a province-wide or state-wide ban.  That said, they are implemented by municipalities and, also, it is the recommendation of Humane Societies, in many many cases, that particularly for pit bulls, that these dogs be neutered and spayed already and many many are.  We're not talking about the most populous dog in Ontario.  It is a small population.  It's a dangerous population and it is causing great harm.  But we've so far received word from municipalities and I've spoken to many many mayors who've said "let's do this" and we're going to find a way to do it.

Question:  Regarding cross-breeds, if you could expand on that, the partial breeding of pit bulls, especially with another terrier, how are you going to handle that?

Answer:  We're looking at the Winnipeg definition of pit bulls and it's fairly long and elaborate and it gets into cross-breeds of certain dogs with certain dogs and there's sometimes a percentage of the cross-breed and again, many of these problems are raised by critics of the proposal in the abstract, and there's some common sense to it.  How on earth are you going to identify it, but the practical experience has been in the United Kingdom and in France and in Denver and in Winnipeg and in Kitchener-Waterloo that they were able to identify them.

Question:  So you're going to indicate the percentage of the breed that is also going to fall under the ban?

Answer:  That's right.  Yes.  Certain cross-breeds are going to fall under the ban.

Question:  How many are there of them?

Answer:  You know what?  We don't collect those statistics, the Canadian Safety Council doesn't collect those statistics, the SPCA doesn't collect those statistics, the Ontario Society for Cruelty to Animals [his words] don't either.   It is an interesting phenomenon.  It means that most of the social science on this really comes from either experts in Canada or the studies and statistics in the United States which found that pit bulls, in study after study, make up about 1 to 3 percent of the dog population in any given area and pit bulls cause somewhere between 48 and 56 percent of the serious dog incidents, being serial and rampage attacks and those statistics make a devastating case for banning these dogs.  One percent of the dog population and half of all of the incidents.  These are not pets.

Question:  Was there one incident, one e-mail, that finally said something has to be done?

Answer:  Well, I think a lot of people, when they learned the story of the man in Toronto attacked by two pit bulls and the number of bullets it took to put them down, I think a lot of people at that moment said "When are we going to stop this, when are we going to end this?" and then, I can't tell you which day it was that I myself personally felt this way, but there was a point certainly in the first three weeks where I was going through the e-mails and I thought "How many miles of stitches and staples are going to have to expand [expend?], how many limbs are going to have to be severed, before we do something about these dogs?"  The Premier has long been very concerned about this and we talked about this subject when we were in Opposition together and he felt too very strongly that pit bulls themselves just don't belong on the streets and fields and family rooms of Ontario.


Question:  You talked about dealing with irresponsible dog owners.  What do you define as an irresponsible dog owner?  A dog that's too loud or a collie that's too protective of  the family?  What's irresponsible?


Answer:  Well, the courts do have definitions under the Dog Owner Liability Act to determine the types of behaviour that's irresponsible:  not leashing a dog that is menacing, putting a large dog in... [unfinished sentence], it all ends up becoming a circumstantial test that a judge considers and looking at whether or not the dog owner was negligent or reckless or wilfully blind in permitting, in its care of that dog, that led to a violent attack.


Question:  Can someone be thrown in jail because their dog is menacing, before an attack, because of its behaviour?


Answer:  You know, that's up to a judge to decide.  It would have to be a pretty extreme case, but we are leaving to the courts to determine where and when large fines of up to $10,000 and incarceration of up to six months ought to be imposed.  We want to give them those tools so that people don't feel as this family felt, that in fact there was no justice done for a dog owner that severely victimized Louise's daughter.


Question:  Does this mean that any dog could potentially be a dangerous dog?


Answer:  Absolutely.  The dangerous dog provisions in this bill will cover everything from the existing pit bulls, whose days are numbered, through to every single breed that is out there.  We want to answer the call from people who say, "You can't just focus on pit bulls, you have to focus on all dogs" by saying "You're right, we've got to dog ownership, dog responsibility, menacing dogs".  These are three areas that just have not gotten enough attention and that's why we're making the changes to the law that we are.


Question:  How are you going to deal with the fact that there are going to be a lot of people who are simply going to want to hand over their pit bulls as soon as this legislation comes in, they just don't want to deal with the issue, they're going to hand it over to some humane society and say "Deal with my dog"?


Answer:  Well, my experience so far has been that every pit bull owner that I have met, and I have met a few, they have introduced me to their dogs at my constituency office and on the streets of St. Paul's, is that they love their dogs, they're very close to their dogs, and they do not seem to be remotely interested in anything but keeping their dog and the next generation and the next generation and the next generation.  Most of the people that I have heard from, through thousands of e-mails, have indicated that they already put a muzzle on their pit bull.  Well obviously many also don't.  We're going to require everybody to do that, for the existing pit bulls.  So, I just have, thus far, only experienced people who desperately want to keep their pit bulls and dropping them off at the dog pound does not seem to be something they want to do.  That said, that's the kind of thing that we need to work out with the municipalities between now and the introduction of the bill to address that possibility, but again, the experience in Winnipeg, and that was sort of the broadest experience, an eleven year experience, I think maybe longer, was that that just didn't happen.


Question:  Do you have any evidence to show that these dogs, pit bulls, are genetically predisposed to violence?


Answer:  The best, I don't know of any scientific evidence in terms of looking literally at their DNA or looking at the genetics of it.  The studies that we have are all statistical studies that say we have X number of dogs out there, in California, and they make up 3 percent of the dog population of California as of 2002.  They represented 68 percent of the rampage dog attacks, dog attacks where there was an injury, not a death, but a serious injury, and I think it was 46 percent of the serial attacks, that is attacks involving a death or a police officer having to shoot the dog.  So we have these studies.  There's one from Washington, there's one from California, the American Veterinary Medical Association did one as well.  There's some reference in an op-ed in the Toronto Star yesterday to these studies and we've gathered as many as we can and it's statistical evidence that backs up, I think, the intuitive and experiential exercise that we have gone through over the last month.  I mean 5,000 e-mails with thousands of horror stories, most of which went unreported.  This is what surprised me most about this exercise is how many people don't go to their local neighbourhood park, don't walk down certain streets, don't visit certain families any more, don't go to certain neighbourhoods any more.  Why?  Because they had a bad pit bull experience.  "Well did you report it?"  "No, we didn't report it because we didn't think anything would happen.  There's nothing we can do about it.  We didn't want to embarrass the pit bull owner, they're nice people."  But they don't want pit bulls around.  And time after time again, people, this seems to have touched a nerve and there seems to be a real truth in all this for many people and it's backed up by the evidence statistically.


Question:  If your legislation becomes law, if it gets passed, can I call the cops if I see a pit bull without a muzzle, without a leash?


Answer:  Yup.


Question:  And what can I expect, given the [inaudible] of police in some jurisdictions?


Answer:  Well, in some jurisdictions the OPP deal with it, in some jurisdictions the municipal officers deal with it, in some jurisdictions Animal Control or the SPCA deal with it.  It depends on the jurisdiction.  And then there's questions of enforcement and whether or not they've got the people in place to do that.  One of the new powers that we're going to bring forward under this bill, which if passed will allow Animal Control officers to enter premises without incurring liability.  Right now, I've heard from the SPCA that they'll go to a place, there'll be a menacing dog in there, but you can't just walk into the property to get the dog, in some cases maybe to rescue the people or otherwise.  You can't go in there to see how bad the dog is or how menacing the dog is, even though there may have been report after report after report of this dog being dangerous and menacing.  We're going to give the ability to enforcement peace officers and police officers to get a warrant to enter those properties.


Question:  What if people still want to breed these dogs, if it goes underground and there's still a market, what do you do then?  How do you stop it?


Answer:  Again, the experience elsewhere has been that that just didn't happen.  It's certainly possible.  We have to have laws on the books and we do to deal with cruelty to animals in cases where people are wrongly hanging on to these animals.  By and large, people complied with these laws.  They decided that pit bulls were not in their future.


Question:  Will there be any extra money available to the municipalities to cover the extra enforcement that's going to be needed?


Answer:  Yes, from the additional fines.  We're upping the fines from $5,000 to $10,000.  The municipalities get those moneys.  Furthermore, they have control over licensing, of course, to deal with the cost of enforcement and regulation and licensing of dogs.  And lastly, you know, let's be clear.  It's going to be the pit bull owners who are going to be bearing the cost of the leash, muzzle, and sterilization.  That's not up to the municipalities.  That's up to a responsible dog owner.


Question:  Do you not feel that pit bull owners will just go to the next best thing, say a Rottweiler or an Akita, and we'll see a proliferation of those dogs?


Answer:  You know, I've heard that argument.  I just don't buy that.  That suggests that if you don't ban cyanide, people will just turn to strychnine or other poisons.  You know, cyanide's bad news.  These are bad news dogs.  And I have not been presented with any compelling evidence to suggest that there is another breed like this.  It is a breed apart.  This is far more "bull" than "pet" and yes, there are big dogs out there, but they just don't cause the damage proportionately to their number, that pit bulls do.  So, I don't accept that.  If these are dangerous dogs, they're dangerous dogs and if other dogs, you know, we just haven't had any evidence that that's going to happen.


Question:  Is there going to be a province-wide registry for grandfathered pit bulls?


Answer:  The municipalities deal with issues of licensing and registry and that's kind of up to them to determine.  There wouldn't be a province-wide registry, no.


Question:  So you're saying that pit bull owners with legal dogs would have to register them with their municipality?


Answer:  Sure, and they already do.  They already should be licensed, of course, and, if they're unlicensed, then that creates its own problems.


Question:  If and when it is passed, you'll go back to a certain date and say people that have had dogs from this point can keep them?


Answer:  Yeah.


Question:  Any idea when that is going to be?


Answer:  Other jurisdictions looked at a three month transition period, so if the law passed in January of next year, then any dogs born after April would in fact fall under the prohibited ban.  They'd be unlawful pit bulls in Ontario.


Question:   Minister, there's a breed of dog called a "bull terrier", Don Cherry's dog Blue or Spud McKenzie.  Just because they have the name "bull terrier", are you going after them too?


Answer:  No, no.  The bull terrier is not captured.  It is not a pit bull.  Boxers are ugly dogs too [laughter].  I boxed for years, so I can say that and I'm showing it right now.  So no, Don Cherry's dog is safe [laughter].  Which means I am too [laughter].


Question:  In your legislation, have you looked at also, say for example the Ellises who [inaudible] sued the dog owner, should menacing dog owners have insurance on their dogs?  Did you look at anything like that?


Answer:  Two things there.  You're right, we need to better give people like the Ellises the power to bring civil actions against irresponsible dog owners and while there are provisions in the bill for that now, we need to strengthen them and we will be strengthening them to permit people to bring a civil action against the dog owner.  On the second issue you asked me about, insurance, that's something we're talking to municipalities about, whether or not they want to require people to have liability insurance for their dogs as a prerequisite.  I should tell you that there are some jurisdictions where you can't get liability insurance for a pit bull.


Question:  Cannot get it?


Answer:  Cannot get it.  And it speaks for itself.  They're too dangerous.  But that's one of those things that I think we're going to leave to municipalities to determine whether or not it works in their particular community.


Question:  From your research, is this the biggest jurisdiction to do this sort of thing?


Answer:  Well, it's the first province-wide ban.  There is not a state in the United States that has done it.  France, the United Kingdom, and to some extent Germany has done it as well.  Denver has done this.  I think there's a few more jurisdictions, but we can get that if you need more information on that, in terms of population, that great dog-loving country, well both France and Great Britain, are dog-loving countries, they banned pit bulls.


Question:  Yes, it's my understanding, however, that England, either they repealed that law or they're considering it because of the impossibility of enforcing it.  They just ran into so many problems for definition of pit bull, what it is, cross-breeds, etc, etc, that they kind of, you know, as I say I'm not sure exactly what the status is, but I think it's been repealed.


Answer:  That's not my understanding.  I had heard, though, that under their legislation, they by regulation established which breed would be banned and not so much pit bulls, but there were some other fighting dog breeds, and I couldn't pronounce them right now, that they banned which did present enormous identification problems, but I'm not aware of and been told otherwise, that in fact it wasn't the pit bull identification problem, it was these other breeds, and we are, it is our intention to put the identity of the dog "pit bull" in statute.  We're not going to have a laundry list and permit, by regulation, other dogs to be added.  We are not interested in that.  We are focusing on pit bulls.  Pit bulls and only pit bulls.


Updated September 26, 2007


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