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Old October 27th, 2004, 09:39 AM
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What happened at the Leg. OCT 26 Part 1

INTRODUCTION OF BILLS

PUBLIC SAFETY RELATED TO DOGS
STATUTE LAW AMENDMENT ACT, 2004 /
LOI DE 2004 MODIFIANT DES LOIS
EN CE QUI CONCERNE LA SÉCURITÉ
PUBLIQUE RELATIVE AUX CHIENS

Mr Bryant moved first reading of the following bill:

Bill 132, An Act to amend the Dog Owners' Liability Act to increase public safety in relation to dogs, including pit bulls, and to make related amendments to the Animals for Research Act / Projet de loi 132, Loi modifiant la Loi sur la responsabilité des propriétaires de chiens pour accroître la sécurité publique relativement aux chiens, y compris les pit-bulls, et apportant des modifications connexes à la Loi sur les animaux destinés à la recherche.

The Speaker (Hon Alvin Curling): Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.

Minister?

Hon Michael Bryant (Attorney General, minister responsible for native affairs, minister responsible for democratic renewal): I'll make comments during ministers' statements, Mr Speaker.

1350

STATEMENTS BY THE MINISTRY
AND RESPONSES

PIT BULLS /
LE PIT-BULL

Hon Michael Bryant (Attorney General, minister responsible for native affairs, minister responsible for democratic renewal): I rise today to introduce legislation that, if passed, would ban pit bulls in the province of Ontario.

This action responds to the growing alarm of Ontarians over the aggressiveness and danger of these dogs; the danger that these dogs pose to public safety; the danger that these dogs pose to other animals; and the imperilling of the safety of our streets, our parks and our communities.

This is real; it is not just fear. It is fear based upon real harm caused by pit bulls against animals and victims.

Interjection.

Hon Mr Bryant: I hear from the opposition something about fearmongering. I'd like him to say that to some of the victims who are in the gallery here today who have been attacked by pit bulls. This is real, and we are going to protect Ontarians in the province of Ontario.

Interruption.

The Speaker (Hon Alvin Curling): I just ask that the members in the gallery please do not applaud.

Hon Mr Bryant: Pit bulls have been responsible for some horribly vicious attacks on Ontarians. Since August, barely a week goes by where there's not another pit bull attack reported in the media, and my experience has been that there are many, many incidents that simply go unreported: a child playing, a man going out for an evening stroll, an infant being pushed along in a stroller, a family enjoying some peace and quiet in their backyard -- all of these circumstances and more -- a woman delivering mail to a house. It goes on and on, and we see the incidents and we see the damage done and we see the fear that it causes and we see that people don't go to certain areas or parks and streets because of this.

This government is saying enough is enough. It's time that we make amendments to the Dog Owners' Liability Act that make our streets safer. Ontario breeders would not be allowed to breed them. Future purchase and imports of pit bulls would be banned if this bill passes. There will be strict new requirements for people already owning pit bulls, though they won't be new for the responsible dog owner, because a responsible dog owner is already leashing and muzzling their pit bull. We are just requiring that all dog owners of pit bulls act responsibly.

Let me be clear, and this is important: Those who currently own pit bulls will, of course, be able to keep their dogs. We have said that all along. Under the regulations, each existing pit bull would also have to be leashed and muzzled when in public. The pit bull would also have to be neutered or spayed. Municipalities will be able to prescribe additional requirements in their own bylaws to reflect citizen concerns.

Our government recognizes that most dog owners are very responsible. Unfortunately, there are irresponsible dog owners in this province as well. This proposed legislation would forestall potential attacks by prosecuting owners of any dogs -- any dogs -- that pose a menace to society. An owner of any dangerous dog that bites, attacks or otherwise poses a menace to public safety could be subject to fines of up to $10,000, and for the first time, a jail term of up to six months. The legislation would also allow fines up to a maximum of $60,000 for corporations who own such dogs. The court would also be able to order the owner to pay restitution to the victim.

Notre gouvernement est résolu à édifier, dans tout l'Ontario, des collectivités fortes, à l'abri du danger. L'interdiction des pit-bulls répond justement à un besoin urgent de sécurité publique. Si cette loi était adoptée, les pit-bulls seraient bannis en Ontario.

We've seen positive results from similar bans in other jurisdictions. The most relevant and telling is the Canadian experience: 14 years ago, Winnipeg became the first Canadian city to ban pit bulls. Winnipeg was experiencing over 30 serious reported pit bull attacks a year; today, zero. Kitchener saw 18 pit bull attacks a year, and in a few short years since the ban came in, thanks to the leadership of their mayor and to Councillor Berry Vrbanovic, who is in the gallery today, they now have about one pit bull attack a year in Kitchener.

This means that people in those cities who otherwise would be subject to the repeated attacks of pit bulls are instead spared serious injury, and the same goes for their pets. Even more interestingly, dog bites in Winnipeg went down over the course of the pit bull ban, refuting the hypothesis that pit bull owners will turn to other dangerous dogs. Similarly, in Kitchener, no other breed has filled the gap left by banned pit bulls.

In Ontario, in addition to Kitchener-Waterloo, Windsor has a ban in place, and Brantford is moving toward one after its city council voted to ban pit bulls. Toronto is re-examining the issue following a recent and particularly horrifying attack, as are other municipalities.

I've heard from municipal leaders from Windsor to Wawa, all asking for the provincial government to show leadership on this public safety issue, and your government is answering that call today. I'm thinking of people like Kitchener Mayor Carl Zehr, who said, "Every Ontarian in every city across Ontario deserves the same level of safety that we have in Kitchener. That's what this legislation would do."

Toronto Mayor David Miller has said that he supports the province's swift action. He said, "This problem is not exclusive to any single municipality; it is a province-wide issue and therefore the best solution is a province-wide strategy to keep Ontarians safe from dangerous dogs."

Mayor Rod Morrison from Wawa has said, "Protecting the public from the menace of pit bulls and toughening up on owners of dangerous dogs that attack is in the best interest of all people in every town, city and community across Ontario."

Chief Fantino has said, "This proposed ban will help my officers and police services across Ontario keep our community safe from dangerous dogs."

Ontario municipalities are speaking out. They're saying they don't want a patchwork of pit bull bans across Ontario. They need province-wide leadership so there is not one level of public safety in one area and one level of public safety in another. Instead, what we need to have across the province is the kind of safety these mayors and leaders have shown and that this government is attempting here in this Legislature today.

There is support across the province. It's not unanimous support, but let's hear about some of it. This is from the Hamilton Spectator: "The broader public interest is well served by the proposed ban." The London Free Press said, "We've seen enough," and it's time for a ban on pit bulls. The Toronto Star said it's time to ban pit bulls. Jim Coyle wrote, "Amen to the ban on pit bulls." Toronto Sun columnist Bob MacDonald said it's "doing the right thing to ban pit bulls in Ontario." The Globe and Mail said, "...implementing the ban will be difficult. Public safety is worth the effort. It's a move long overdue." The National Post said the "suggested ban should be enacted."

With this legislation, our government would set the province-wide standard and eliminate the need for a patchwork of municipal bans. We would be the first province or state across the continent to put this ban in place. I believe we are showing leadership here, and it is to the safety of all Ontarians. While municipalities would maintain principal authority for dog control, as they do, the province will ensure that all Ontarians will receive uniform protection. This will protect municipal authorities while protecting Ontarians. I thank municipal leaders for their support.

We are continuing discussions with the Association of Municipalities of Ontario and with the city of Toronto to ensure that working together will make the proposed ban work effectively for all.

The reaction to this debate has been overwhelming. I've received more than 5,000 -- almost 6,000 -- e-mails and letters about pit bulls. The message is clear: A majority clearly support pit bull bans. Hearing from the public was a really powerful and influential factor in the decision to ban pit bulls. Clearly, there are many unreported pit bull incidents, and clearly, there is not just fear over it, but justified fear. There is a great silent majority that is being heard on this issue and their government is listening.
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