Hearings into province-wide dangerous dog legislation begin
Hearings into a proposed law that would ban certain dog breeds in Quebec began with testimony from veterinarians, victims, and the sister of a woman whose death at the hands of an escaped dog sparked a province-wide debate on breed specific legislation.
Those testifying, though, said people should not focus just on the deaths caused by dogs, but also on the maulings and permanent injuries inflicted on victims who survive.
Christiane Vadnais was killed in June 2016 when a neighbour’s pit bull-type dog got into her yard in Montreal and her family travelled to Quebec City to share their grief.
Emilie Routhier said she still feels the loss of her mother.
"It's very emotional for me, so I don't always come out and speak to the public, but today was more significant for me so it was important to be here, not only for my mom, but for all the victims," said Routhier.
She said the public does not realize just how many people are severely and permanently injured by dogs.
"What happened to my mom on June 8, 2016 definitely opened our eyes to a lot of cases that happened. It's not necessarily death, but there are definitely very important and severe injuries that people will have for a lifetime," said Routhier.
Vadnais's death prompted the city of Montreal to ban certain breeds of dog deemed dangerous, but the breed-specific legislation has since been rescinded by mayor Valerie Plante's administration.
Lise Vadnais said she and her family are disappointed by that decision and she is worried that public pressure could put the provincial bill in jeopardy.
"This should not be a political issue. It's a matter of public security," said Vadnais.
Vadnais said she was also upset that the Order of Quebec Veterinarians, which testified earlier in the day, seemed to be afraid to upset those who oppose the ban.
"I did not hear one single time the words 'pit bull' coming from the Order of Veterinarians. That is incredibly disturbing. This is the problem and they are afraid to utter the words," said Vadnais.
She said a failure to discuss the problem puts the public at risk, and has pitted animal advocates against those who support the ban.
“I choose human beings,” she said.
"There will never be zero risk": veterinarians
The Order of Veterinarians did not come out in favour of the legislation but it did not strongly oppose it either with Caroline Kilsdonk, president of the Order, saying the legislation requires more nuance and long-term thinking.
She testified that dog owners are often unaware of the warning signs of dog aggression, and said the public also needs to be taught how to behave around dogs.
"There will never be zero risk. You want a short-term solution that will be available right now," said Kilsdonk. "We want to concentrate our public contribution to the discussion on long-term solutions."
Kilsdonk said a better approach would be to control the breeding and sale of dogs, and to create registries to track dogs with behavioural problems.
She said it's good the public is aware that some dogs are dangerous, but said there likely is no short term fix for the problem of dangerous dogs.
The Montreal SPCA says it is not a black and white issue.
“It is really unfortunate, but people that have lived through tragedies often want a very easy answer and a solution and the issue of dangerous dogs is a complex problem,” said Alana Devine, the SPCA’s director of animal advocacy.
Banning certain breeds is not the answer, said Devine.
“It's very easy to pull numbers out of anywhere but when we look at the actual literature from dog bite epidemiologists, veterinarians and experts in canine behaviour, there isn't anything to support breed-specific legislation,” she said.
Bill prompted by death, injuries
The multiple injuries from dog maulings throughout the province, including a girl who had her skull broken in Brossard, prompted Quebec to introduce Bill 128 to ban certain breeds of dog province-wide including pit bull terriers, American staffordshire terriers, bull terriers, rottweilers, some crossbreeds and hybrids, and dogs trained to "protect, guard, fight and attack."
Quebec Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux said the list could evolve in the future, and on Tuesday he reiterated that it's a sensitive issue for many people.
"It's an emotional issue for both sides and I will listen to everybody and I will have respect for the positions of everybody," said Coiteux.
The National Pitbull Victim Awareness Association also testified Tuesday and it presented an extensive brief on this issue across Canada.
It said 220 cities in Canada have breed-specific bans that are effective. The group said areas with bans on pit bulls and other dangerous dogs are reporting fewer dog-caused deaths and serious bite and mauling injuries.
"I'm not naive. I know that a consensus on this issue will be very difficult, but at least if we can rally a large number of people, we can go forward and have the appropriate legislation for all cities to have minimal standards for the protection of their people," said Coiteux.
Officials from the City of Laval and the Quebec Federation of Municipalities will also testify at the hearings, although officials from Montreal have declined an invitation to speak.
Montreal is against the legislation and chose to submit a brief instead.
“We're still ongoing with our consultation process, we're still meeting experts, we haven't written our bylaw out yet, so we didn't have anything to present in the way of a bylaw before the commission,” said Craig Sauve, the city councillor in charge of the dossier.
Both the city and the SPCA are calling for a province-wide bite registry.
“I wouldn't say that it's a solution, I would say that it's an important measure in order to collect information. Right now, we have no actual information on the number of dog bites in this province,” explained Devine.
The hearings wrap up Thursday.