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Old October 27th, 2004, 09:37 AM
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What happened at the Leg. OCT 26 Part 2

That said, it was a compelling debate. I heard from all sides. I met with municipal authorities, police officers, animal experts, groups like the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association and the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. I met with national coalitions representing humane societies, veterinarians and animal control experts. I met with victims and with citizens, those great non-experts who are all experts about dogs. We've heard first-hand the accounts of many victims and the suffering experienced by their families.

I want to acknowledge and thank some people who courageously came here to Queen's Park, who have been waiting, for a long time in some cases, for this ban to be put in place, if this should pass: Darlene Wagner, Angela Joyce, Karl Vaartjes, Steven and his daughter Lindsay Grandy, Louise Ellis and her daughter Lauren, Maria De Zorzi, Diana Fischer and George Gooderham; as well, sitting in the gallery is Councillor Berry Vrbanovic, who has been a real leader in this. Thank you to all of you for coming here today.

So we've heard from the victims, we've heard from those who were opposed to pit bull bans and we've heard from the people of Ontario. This debate comes to this House as this province considers whether it will be the first to ban pit bulls, in Ontario. I would say to all honourable members in this House that I don't think any of us want to open our morning paper and see yet another picture of a young child who has been harmed, a pet who has been harmed, resulting in a pit bull being put down. We've seen enough, and enough is enough. It's time for action.

The Speaker: Response?

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Mr Joseph N. Tascona (Barrie-Simcoe-Bradford): I wish to express, from our party, our sympathy to the victims of dog attacks, and share the desire to stop attacks in future, but we have concerns about how the Attorney General went about developing this piece of legislation.

My office has received dozens of e-mails, and almost everyone agrees that action must be taken to prevent innocent people from being attacked by dogs. Everyone is asking, what constitutes a pit bull? Experts say that the pit bull is really a breed unto itself, but refer to a number of breeds, crossbreeds, hybrids, etc.

For the purpose of enforcing this politically charged ban, how does one determine what is a pit bull? Who will be responsible for making the determination and will it stand up in court? There are people who suggest the government is taking this strong stand on pit bulls not because it feels the law will be enforceable, but because it will convince people it is taking action on a serious problem. Many pit bulls, or for that matter dogs in general, are not registered, especially in rural areas. When someone sees an unleashed dog, they might think, is it a pit bull? Who do they call? Assuming someone catches the dog, what happens next?

Many municipalities in Ontario do not have facilities to detain stray animals. Some have financial arrangements with the SPCA shelters, run principally by volunteer organizations, but these groups often operate on shoestring budgets and can't be expected to take on the responsibility of dealing with a huge influx of what your government refers to as dangerous animals. Minister, you'll have to explain to us how this ban you propose will be effective and enforceable to protect the public.

Early this morning in Toronto a 28-year-old man is recuperating from serious injuries to his hand and arm after being attacked by a dog. While police are still investigating, this report appears to support your call for a ban on pit bulls. Well, not quite. The dog involved was not a pit bull; it was a Rottweiler.

Pet owners and animal experts believe a ban on pit bulls will be just the start, that more breeds will be added as other dog attacks are reported. Over time, you might be able to include every breed in the ban. Banning the pit bull breed will not protect the public from other aggressive breeds such as Rottweilers and Dobermans. My own experience is of having being bitten by a dog in the hand as a young child, by a German shepherd. Are we going to ban that dog also? What will be the criteria in the future for banning other breeds?

In Italy, they have banned in excess of 90 breeds, and it has not solved the problem of dangerous dogs. The Attorney General says this comprehensive approach of a provincial ban will avoid a patchwork of bans by municipalities. Municipalities, I would argue, are capable of determining their community's safety, and were acting; for example, the city of Windsor. What municipalities need are the tools to do the job. Muzzling and leashing pit bulls or other dangerous dogs in public is warranted, but will not protect victims from dogs that bolt from their owner's house or property and attack a human being or other creature. Police will not charge criminally unless it be proven that the dog owner was negligent.

An example is that no charges were laid by the OPP in a recent pit bull attack where the dog bolted from a house, killing a small dog, because they could not prove owner's negligence. The Dog Owners' Liability Act does not impose strict liability offences on a dog owner whose dog bites, attacks or poses a threat to public safety. There is always the defence of due diligence, so heavier fines and jailing of dog owners are meaningless tools to protect the public if a dog owner cannot be held accountable under the law for their dog's actions.

I would say to the Attorney General that this is another example of your seat-of-the-pants approach to government. This is ill thought out, you didn't consult and you don't know how it will be policed or what it will cost. Admit it, Minister: this is a public relations show designed to give people the impression that you are doing something and to get your mug on TV.

I will say this to you, Mr Attorney General: This bill should go to committee. You should face the public in terms of what you are trying to do. Make sure that it's enforceable and that you're accountable to the public. The people in this audience here today deserve to know that this is not a sham, that they will be protected.

We have sympathy for anyone who has been bitten by a dog. We want to make sure they are protected by the law. We don't want this to be no more than the public relations exercise it already is. Do the job, Minister: Respect the public and protect them.

Mr John R. Baird (Nepean-Carleton): On a point of order, Mr Speaker: I'd like to offer the government that we in the official opposition would certainly be prepared to give unanimous consent to waive the printing of this bill and to begin debating it this afternoon, if you'd like.

The Speaker: Do we have unanimous consent? I don't think there's unanimous consent.

Interjections.

The Speaker: Order, government House leader. Unanimous consent means all, and I heard a no. Response from the member for Niagara Centre.

Mr Peter Kormos (Niagara Centre): This bill purports to address what we all acknowledge as a very serious problem, a problem that has taken its toll of victims, not only across Ontario but throughout North America. I have no hesitation in acknowledging that. Our exposure to this is primarily anecdotal and I think it's fair to say that the information we receive through the news media is perhaps but the tip of the iceberg. I say to this government --

Interjections.

The Speaker: Order. I'll give you your time. I'm just going to say that when the Attorney General was reading his statement, it was quiet, people were polite and they were listening. Now the response from the member for Niagara Centre is not receiving the same courtesy. I ask the member from Niagara Centre to respond.

Mr Kormos: This is a serious problem that warrants serious consideration in a disciplined way in the context of this chamber and the rules and procedure of this chamber. It's far too important a matter for anybody to attempt to short-circuit the process. It's far too important a matter to folks across this province, to ensure that there is a full debate, that there is a thorough and intelligent consideration of all the data and evidence.

I don't doubt the sincerity of the people who advocate this bill as it stands now, and I would ask them not to doubt the sincerity of those who want to ensure that whatever legislation is eventually passed in this province is the most effective law, with enforceability and the capacity to have a meaningful impact on vicious dogs and attacks by vicious dogs, be they pit bulls or be they others.

I tell you, there has been serious conflict and contradictory statements made about who has and who hasn't been consulted. I'm not in a position -- nor would I want to at this point -- to identify any of the parties as being anything less than truthful from their particular perspective. But I'm concerned about the letter that appeared in this morning's Toronto Star from the president of the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association, one Tim Zaharchuk, who says that organization wasn't consulted.

I'm concerned there's a suggestion -- a number of columnists and journalists have been cited -- that for as many as there are who support the ban being proposed and the manner it's being proposed, there are an equal number of observers and journalists who express concerns. I'm concerned about the observation that the US Centers for Disease Control has not been adequately consulted. I'm concerned about the observation that the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has not been consulted, that the Canada Safety Council has not been effectively consulted. The people of this province deserve to hear from those parties, deserve to know what the data are, so that we as legislators can develop the best possible legislative response to, I repeat, this most serious problem.

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We believe as well that this matter should go to public hearings. There ought to be public committee hearings so that all parties can express their views, so that there could be a public airing of the data and the evidence and so that there can be a legitimate consideration of the effect of breed-specific bans in other jurisdictions.

I'm concerned about the conflicting reports about the effectiveness of the breed-specific bans in the United Kingdom. I'm concerned about the conflicting reports coming about places like Cincinnati or Denver, where there is some suggestion that breed bans were attempted, failed and then abandoned; if they have been, we want to understand why. If there are better ways to approach this than the manner in which this legislation does it, then we're prepared to work together to ensure that that better way is implemented.

We're concerned about municipalities and their ability to enforce this legislation. It's quite clear this is legislation that has to be enforced at the municipal level. Down where I come from, and in fact across this province, municipalities are hard-pressed to keep animal control officers on duty any more than five days a week, eight hours a day. To have a breed ban or a vicious dog ban in general is meaningless unless you've got people out there prepared to do the hard, nasty and dirty work in terms of picking up this breed.

Also, the bill clearly provides for at least one more decade of so-called pit bulls in Ontario. We're talking about the so-called grandparenting. I understand why the government would want to include that in their legislation, but I very much want to understand how that jibes with their expression of such serious concern with this one specific breed.

Hon Dwight Duncan (Minister of Energy, Government House Leader): On a point of order, Mr Speaker: In light of the spirit of co-operation that has been offered, I seek unanimous consent to put a motion, without further debate, that when this bill is called, any time this bill is called, no party can put a motion to adjourn the House or adjourn the debate without unanimous consent.

The Speaker: The government House leader put a motion forward to have unanimous consent. Do I hear unanimous consent? I heard a no.

Ms Marilyn Churley (Toronto-Danforth): You're an idiot.

Interjections.

The Speaker: Order. The member from Toronto-Danforth has used unparliamentary language. Would you stand and withdraw.

Ms Churley: I withdraw, Speaker.
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