Five things to know about Ontario's pit bull ban (2024)

Ever since the Ontario government passed legislation banning pit bulls in 2005, the topic of breed-specific legislation has been a contentious and heated debate.

Author of the article:

Jack Moulton

Published Nov 08, 2023Last updated Nov 08, 20234 minute read

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Five things to know about Ontario's pit bull ban (1)

Ever since the Ontario government passed legislation banning pit bulls in 2005, the topic of breed-specific legislation has been a contentious and heated debate.

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Five things to know about Ontario's pit bull ban (2)

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Back when the ban was first bring introduced at Queen’s Park, then-attorney general of Ontario Michael Bryant referred to pit bulls as “time-bombs” and “inherently dangerous animals.”

Critics have argued since the amendment of Ontario’s Dog Owners’ Liability Act to include the pit bull ban that in the case of a dog attack, the onus should instead be placed on the owner instead of the breed.

In addition, critics say the law is too broad, including a clause prohibiting dogs that have traits resembling pit bull breeds.

In light of a recent pit bull attack on a woman in Norfolk County, The London Free Press sought to answer some basic questions about the ban and its effectiveness.

What does the law actually say?

The Dog Owners’ Liability Act states that no person shall own, breed, transfer or import a pit bull in Ontario.

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Under the law, specific restricted breeds are identified as:

  • Pit bull terriers
  • Staffordshire bull terriers
  • American Staffordshire terriers
  • American pit bull terriers

However, the law also restricts dogs that have “an appearance and physical characteristics that are substantially similar” to the identified breeds.

When the legislation came into effect in 2005, pit bulls already registered in the province were grandfathered and required to be muzzled in public.

How and why did the ban come about?

The ban was introduced in Ontario after a series of high-profile attacks involving pit bulls.

When the Ontario attorney general announced the ban in October 2004, the first and only provincial ban, it came two months after an horrific attack on a man in Toronto.

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A 25-year-old man was attacked by two pit bulls that bit his arms, legs and back. When police arrived, they shot the dogs several times but they continued to attack, forcing a paramedic to choke one to release its grip.

Though the man survived, he faced extensive reconstructive surgery and the possibility of losing an arm. In his announcement, Bryant referenced the attack, saying the man was “practically eaten alive from the ankles up.”

Has the ban been effective?

When it comes to measuring the success of the law, it is almost impossible to define.

That is because the province does not keep statistics related to ownership of pit bulls or bites, instead leaving enforcement to municipalities. Even still, the province does not regulate how they collect data.

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Most local organizations, including the London Animal Care Centre (LACC), which is contracted by the city to carry out animal control and bylaw enforcement, says the ban has not had an effect on the overall number of bites.

Kent Lattanzio, director of operations for the centre, confirmed the number of registered pit bulls in the city has decreased, as has the number of bites by pit bulls.

What happens if you’re caught with a pit bull or pit bull type dog?

Some municipalities, such as Ottawa, choose not to actively enforce the ban, or operate on a complaint-driven basis like Toronto.

Here in London, the ban is enforced proactively and reactively both through its own bylaw as well as through the Dog Owners’ Liability Act. The bylaw was drafted in an effort to make the enforcement process more efficient and only rely on the courts in severe cases.

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Before a dog is licensed in London, its breed has to be verified and signed off on by a veterinarian. If the dog is a pit bull, a licence won’t be issued.

Under London bylaw, failure to follow a muzzle order for a pit bull results in a $500 fine. Repeated bites and attacks may also result in the city ordering the dog to be euthanized.

Anyone found guilty of violating the provincial ban can face up to a $10,000 fine and six months in prison.

What happened to efforts to overturn the ban?

After being elected in 2018, the provincial Progressive Conservative government expressed interest in repealing the ban.

In 2019, Rick Nicholls, former MPP for Chatham–Kent–Leamington and member of the PC caucus, introduced a private member’s bill to repeal the ban. It was referred to a standing committee where it is now in limbo.

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However after a 13-year-old boy in Vaughan was bitten in face by an American Bully, a separate breed that resembles a pit bull, in November 2021, Premier Doug Ford said the government would not proceed with changing the law “at this point.”

Instead, the government eased regulations, allowing seized dogs that look like pit bulls to be released while an investigation into their breed takes place.

— with files from The Canadian Press

jmoulton@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/jackmoulton65

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