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Pit bull laws a ‘cheap fix,' Ruby says


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Pit bull laws a ‘cheap fix,' Ruby says

Monday, August 29, 2005 Updated at 4:46 PM EDT

Globe and Mail Update with Canadian Press

High-powered lawyer Clayton Ruby took on Ontario's new ban on pit bulls Monday with a vengeance, criticizing the legislation for being too broad and saying it will unduly punish owners of "friendly, happy dogs."

Mr. Ruby launched a constitutional challenge to the law, along with the owner of a pit-bull mix dog in Toronto, saying the legislation requiring these dogs to be leashed and muzzle lists a number of breeds that are "substantially similar" to pit bulls. That will cause confusion among dog owners, he said.

"It will not improve the safety of the residents of Ontario, and it will not reduce the number of dog bite incidents in this province.

"It will, however, force the owners of friendly, happy dogs, who have never bitten anyone, to leash them and muzzle them without any reason whatsoever."

The law, which officially came into effect Monday, but also includes a 60-day grace period, places a ban on all pit bulls born after Nov. 27 and those brought into the province. If such dogs are discovered, they can be confiscated and destroyed by municipal licensing officers.

The law also contains a grandfather clause that will allow older dogs to live out their days, following restrictions including being leashed and muzzled and spayed or neutered by Oct. 28.

Mr. Ruby also said there is no evidence that pit bulls are more vicious than other types of dogs.

"The government has chosen the cheap fix...let's just ban the pit bulls... forget the fact that no one can tell what's the pit bull that will cause problems."

The plaintiff in the case is Catherine Cochrane, 22, who owns an 18-month old pit bull mix female dog named Chess.

Ms. Cochrane said Chess is a well behaved dog and shouldn't have to be muzzled because it won't let her learn to be a well socialized dog around other animals.

Mr. Ruby said the second legal argument is that the legislation is "overbroad." "Overbroad means that yes you capture what you're worried about but the definition is so broad it captures a large number of other things that are not part of the problem."

Mr. Ruby says it would be more expensive to follow what experts say needs to be done to stop dog bites, including setting up a dog and dog bite registry, providing dog bite prevention education, requiring owners to sterilize and train their dogs.

Conservative Leader John Tory said that the government was focused on "the quick PR hit" of getting legislation passed rather than focusing on the real issue, which is irresponsible dog owners and dangerous dogs in general, not just pit bulls.

"This government has focused on the quick PR hit, the quick PR spin of getting a piece of legislation passed and declaring victory and moving on, leaving in their wake a piece of legislation that may be unconstitutional," he said.

Mr. Tory added that he felt the Ontario Liberals were moving fairly quickly on pit bull legislation but were dragging their feet on improving citizens' safety in wake of a wave of recent gun violence.

"I was surprised and disappointed at the fact that...we haven't seen the same kind of urgency attached to the issue of violence and gun violence in particular."

The legislation requires owners of pit bulls who bite, attack or are deemed a threat to the public to face a fine of up to $10,000 and six months in jail.

A spokesman for Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant said Monday that Mr. Bryant "is more than confident that the law will withstand any legal challenge."

On Sunday, hundreds of supporters of pit bull-type dogs gathered in front of the provincial legislature to protest.

Several dog-rights advocacy groups including one called Banned Aid are raising money to fight the legislation. Banned Aid is selling items on its website including charms that say, "Ban the dreed, not the breed," along with posters and prints.

However, those who have been victims of pit-bull attacks said they were pleased the law had finally kicked in.

Here's a link to the story at GlobeandMail.com, but I think you have to register to read it on there.

Also, in case this issue sounds familiar, we had an in-depth discussion about it some time ago, and you can click here to refresh your memories; in case anyone feels like rehashing past debates...

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Conservative Leader John Tory said that the government was focused on "the quick PR hit" of getting legislation passed rather than focusing on the real issue, which is irresponsible dog owners and dangerous dogs in general, not just pit bulls.

I agree with this statement 100%. Perhaps they should be leashing and muzzling the shoddy owners who teach their dogs to be vicious rather than punishing the well behaved and loving dogs that have committed no other crime than to have been born of one particular breed (including my own kind and loving pitbull cross!). :(

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You, I, and Clayton Ruby are all "on the same page" on this issue.

I couldn't agree more.

(I don't have the time or energy to repeat it all now, but most of my thoughts on this issue came out the last time this was discussed here, at the thread to which I provided a link above; if you're interested in the long version of my opinion.)

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  • 8 months later...

Update on this story...

Owners at fault, not pit bulls, court told

'Bad dogs are made by bad people' who will now move to another breed, lawyer Ruby says


Sarah Dann would like to be able to take her pit bull, Darwin, for a walk without muzzling the dog she describes as friendly, happy and well-behaved.

But under legislation adopted in August, 2005, that will eventually ban pit bulls in Ontario, Darwin, whose first birthday is tomorrow, cannot be taken out in public without being muzzled and leashed.

Ms. Dann, the designer of a button saying, My Ontario Includes Pit Bulls, is pinning her hopes for what she sees as a normal dog's life for Darwin on a case challenging the constitutionality of the pit bull law. Arguments began yesterday in front of Madam Justice Thea Herman of the Ontario Superior Court.

"It [the legal challenge] is important to me because I own good dogs, and I'd like to able to enjoy the same access to the world of dogs as everybody else in Ontario does," she said in an interview.

"As a pit bull owner, I'm now subjected to a good deal of prejudice -- it's incessant -- because the government has endorsed the legislation that they have. . . . Because of the way the legislation is worded, my dogs or anybody's dogs could be seized without a warrant issued. So there's a lot of exposure for pit bull owners right now."

According to the law, pit bull owners who fail to muzzle, leash and sterilize their dogs face a fine of up to $10,000 and/or up to six months in jail. The challenge was brought by pit bull owner Catherine Cochrane.

Her lawyer, Clayton Ruby, said before the case started that while everyone wants to protect people from attacks by vicious dogs, this legislation won't.

"What you've got to acknowledge," Mr. Ruby said outside the court, "is that bad dogs are made by bad people. There are some people who really want angry, vicious dogs, and if you ban them from pit bulls, they will move on to Rottweilers, and then they will move to [German] shepherds and then they will move to huskies and there is no end to this list."

He said that, as written, the definition of a pit bull in the Dog Owners' Liability Act is so vague that, "as an owner, how am I to tell that the dog that I got from the pound or from my friend Smitty is a pit bull? If a vet can't tell, who can tell? That's vague legislation and the Constitution requires more than that."

Mr. Ruby told the court yesterday that the law is so vague and broad that it violates the provision of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that says people can't be deprived of rights and freedoms unless the legal process follows the principles of fundamental justice.

The Crown counters in its brief that for the definition to be found so vague that it renders the law unconstitutional, it would have to be so imprecise it would not provide the basis for judicial interpretation, and thus a trial.

The issue of whether an animal is a pit bull can be settled in a trial, the Crown brief adds, noting that in April, a dog owner was acquitted of a charge under the act because the dog was found not to be a pit bull.

The Crown also argues that there are good grounds for legislation singling out pit bulls, which "as a group . . . present a clear and serious risk to public safety in Ontario," and a further, indirect danger as they often compel police officers to discharge firearms as they try to stop a pit bull attack.

"Many published studies have identified pit bulls and pit bull crosses as being more dangerous to public safety than any other type of dog. . . ." the Crown brief says.

The Crown argument is that traditional dangerous-dog legislation that deals with dogs after they bite is not effective against pit bulls, which often attack without warning: "They only protect against a second pit bull attack."

The Crown also argues that there is no constitutionally protected right to own a pit bull and that the law's provisions, which make it illegal to breed or buy pit bulls in Ontario and require the existing population of pit bulls to be muzzled and leashed in public, are reasonable.


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I agree, a bad pit is worse than a bad poodle, but I wouldn't say the pit is more likely by nature, rather than nurture to be a bad dog, he just has the physical capacity to cause much more harm in a bad situation. Example: oh look at that little chiwawa barking, how cute vs. oh shit, it's a pitbull barking. Bad owners, conceivably bad pre-adoption scenarios, are the reasons for bad dogs, not so necessarily the breed. That's it in a nutshell. I have a border-collie that I'd advise asking before petting so...

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Another thing here that I haven't seen mentioned although it may have been, I didn't read the other thread.

It's a fair thing to say that the breed is not really the problem, it's the owner. You'll notice in the article that it says pit bulls are the most likely to cause problems.

The thing is, pit bulls are very strong dogs so if I want a really dangerous and mean dog, I'd get a pitbull. If many, many folk think that (and have plans to make an angry dog), they too will go for a pitbull, it's an excellent candidate. If this happens, more mean people will have pitbulls so it stands to reason that more pitbulls will bite.

And that brings us right back to when the guy says they'll just move to another breed. Yup. Any dog can be made to be angry and there are lots of really tough (physically) dogs out there so it'd be easy to switch types.

Now, if we follow this trend, the next dog to be banned will be whatever the next type of dog these people get. Etc, etc, until we have no more dogs left here. :(

Although I hate guns, the little saying "guns don't kill people, people do" is pretty true. I think it's the same with the dogs, it's the owners, not the dog, that are the direct cause. If I gave AK47's to a bunch of murderers, it's a fairly safe assumption to say that there will be an increase in death and violence by AK47. If I gave them some handgun, the same would be true, handguns in this case. Same with animals.

Yes, there will always be exceptions to this rule, talking generally here.

That's the way I see it. Every pit bull I've met so far has been a very friendly, if not downright sucky (giving you the perfect doggy pouty eyes when things must be done).

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That is the main point. All dogs have the potential to hurt someone. Large dogs have greater potential, because of their strength.

Go after owners of vicious dogs; not owners of a particular breed on the basis that other owners have been irresponsible with that breed.

I also want to point out an inaccuracy in the Crown's argument in Court (or at least the way it is portrayed in the article). The idea that current legislation only protects against a "second bite" is not exactly accurate. In fact, the standard in Canada (and I am quite certain in every province) is that if a dog has shown a "propensity" to be aggressive, then it could be deemed a dangerous animal, and the law kicks in. That dog does not get "one free bite", contrary to some people's characterization of the current schema. (There was a time that a dog did get "one free bite", but that was long ago.)

The point is: If a dog has never been vicious, or even shown a propensity to be, then that dog deserves to live his/her life, and be loved like any other pet; regardless of how many muscles it has, and whether its jaw might be stronger than average.

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Now, if we follow this trend, the next dog to be banned will be whatever the next type of dog these people get. Etc, etc, until we have no more dogs left here.

When I was a kid, Dobermans and German Shepherds were the dogs that everyone was worried about. I can recall that there was talk of banning them at the time, which seems pretty silly now.

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Pit bulls likened to automatic weapons

Provincial lawyers defend new law

Ban on breed is unconstitutional: Ruby

May 17, 2006. 01:00 AM



Pit bulls are like "the automatic guns of the dog world," and Ontarians have no constitutional right to own such dangerous animals, a government lawyer says.

Michael Doi was responding yesterday to a Charter challenge to the province's new pit bull ban by Toronto dog owner Catherine Cochrane and supporters.

Her lawyer, Clayton Ruby, says it's unconstitutional that she can be jailed for running afoul of a law that is too broad and vague. Society should punish bad owners who foster bad dogs, not keepers of one ill-defined breed, he has argued.

But, yesterday, Doi likened this view to a classic argument against gun control — that guns don't kill people; people do. "There is no constitutional right to an automatic weapon, and the same applies to pit bulls," he said.

The dogs are inherently dangerous, unpredictable and unusually damaging in their attacks, leading to long-term injuries and even death, Doi said.

He described several vicious attacks, including one on 10-year-old Lauren Harper on Danforth Ave. in 1994.

A pit bull she was patting with the owner's permission attacked without warning.

It bit a gaping hole under her left eye and tore off part of her nose, leaving her permanently scarred, Doi said.

Legislatures have a right to protect the public from such extreme dangers in whatever reasonable way they see fit and courts should not second-guess them, he argued.

"It's not the wisdom of the legislation that's the issue. It's the constitutionality," he told Superior Court Justice Thea Herman.

Under amendments to the Dog Owners' Liability Act that came into effect last October, people can't acquire pit bulls.

Existing owners may hold onto their pets so long as they neuter them and keep them muzzled and leashed when out in public.

Violators are subject to a maximum $10,000 fine and six months in jail, and their dogs are put down.

Pit bulls are more likely than other dogs to attack without provocation, argued Doi's co-counsel, Zachary Green.

The means chosen by the government to eventually eliminate them from the province is not overbroad, as Ruby argues, but reasonable and proportionate, Green said.

The definition of pit bulls, which under the amendments includes American Staffordshire terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers, American pit bull terriers, pit bull terriers or "substantially similar" dogs, is not overly vague, as Ruby contends, Green said.

Veterinarians, breeders and animal control officers have no trouble identifying the dogs, he said.

The hearing continues tomorrow.


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