Monday, June 22, 2009

Ginger and the Pit Bull law

Maybe you've heard already about Ginger, the Pit Bull. First accused of being off leash and attacking another dog, Ginger was condemned to die by the City of Toronto but her owner, Phillip Huggins, with help from lawyer Terrance Green, who specializes in DOLA, fought the ruling.

The legal wrangling has taken over three years, during which time Ginger has been kept in likely isolation at Toronto Animal Services East as dogs housed under court orders aren't allowed to go outside or otherwise interact with the public.

Earlier this year, in April, when Huggins and Ginger finally saw their day in court, it was determined by Justice Mary Hogan that it was the other dog, Buddy, who was actually off leash and instigated the fight. The court decided that Ginger was leashed and muzzled and only lost the muzzle when Buddy tore it off.

This is the piece of Ontario legislation, the breed specific portion of the Dog Owners’ Liability Act, which applies to this situation:

(8) When, in a proceeding under this section, the court finds that the dog is a pit bull and has bitten or attacked a person or domestic animal, or has behaved in a manner that poses a menace to the safety of persons or domestic animals, the court shall make an order under clause (3) (a).

with (3)(a) being

(3)(a) that the dog be destroyed in the manner specified in the order;

I'm no legal expert but I think what that basically says is that if a Pit Bull type dog is found to have bitten a person or a domestic animal, regardless of cause, it must be euthanized.

In Justice Hogan's own words, this is "absurd". In her decision, she states:

For example, if an individual were breaking into a home where a pit bull resided and that pit bull in the course of protecting his owner and his owner’s home bit the burglar, that pit bull would have to be destroyed. Surely, given the stated purpose of the legislation this absurd result was not intended.

Justice Hogan was also concerned that "such a dog [referring to Ginger] would be ordered destroyed in circumstances where the dog had no culpability whatsoever". Or, in other words, since Ginger was leashed, muzzled and did not initiate the fight, she did nothing wrong, was not a threat to the public and therefore should not be punished for protecting herself against an aggressor dog.

Thus, Ginger's euthanasia order was overruled.

Justice Hogan should be given a big gob smacking gold medal for interpreting this fuzzy piece of breed specific legislation in a way that is fair and which better serves the public interest.

It's interesting to read in her decision that she actually debates the intended purpose of the Pit Bull specific amendments to the Dog Owner's Liability Act:

If the lawmakers intended the second interpretation [the euthanize Pit Bulls no matter what interpretation] then this would shift the purpose of the amendments to the DOLA away from the protection of the public and the ban on breeding of pit bulls to the destruction of pit bulls. This was not the stated purpose in the Committee proceedings to which I was referred by all counsel.

In other words, Justice Hogan believes that the purpose of the law is foremost to protect the public and is not a carte blanche to massacre all Pit Bulls in the province. This decision is a huge deal because it sets a precedent that says a jurisdiction in Ontario can't just kill a Pit Bull type dog for no good reason.

I'd call that pretty damn enlightened.

Unfortunately, the Pit Bull death cull supporting lawyers and politicos in this province do not seem as encumbered by the weight of fairness and justice. This decision to not kill a Pit Bull just because it's a Pit Bull must have made the haters shake with spittle laced anger as they sat reading it in their too tight little undies. They are fighting back.

City of Toronto lawyer Kirsten Franz: "If the court uses the same discretion for pit bulls as for other dogs, the legislation has no meaning."

For some reason, Franz thinks that if we treat Pit Bulls and Pit Bull type dogs fairly, or at least as fairly as other dogs, then the DOLA has no meaning. Since when is fairness of treatment equated to "no meaning"? So, in the city's view it is preferable for the law to be prejudicial to the point of death? Perhaps they would also consider taking away women's right to vote, re-introducing the head tax on immigrants, bringing back indentured servitude for the poor. I mean really, if you're going to fuck fairness, you might as well fuck it all the way.

A motion was granted last Wednesday allowing the city and the province to appeal the decision to spare Ginger. They still want her dead. Come this fall or early 2010, they're going to try again to kill her and if they succeed, then they can keep on killing the rest.

In the meanwhile, Clayton Ruby, who has taken over the case and is now representing Huggins pro bono, has managed to get Ginger released from her prison and back into the custody of her owner while she awaits her fate. How he did that, I don't quite understand, but I'm sure a lot of other Pit Bull owners would definitely like to know.

Clayton Ruby has been working hard recently for the Pit Bull cause, attempting to challenge the BSL portion of DOLA at the Supreme Court of Canada. The SCC decided against hearing the challenge.

That matters but it also doesn't matter. The battle against BSL can't be won in the courts anyway. Even if the SCC found the BSL portion in the DOLA to be too vague, the province's lawyers could have just changed it around to be less vague, to be more inclusive, possibly including your breed of dog. They could have just rejigged the law a bit while keeping it basically the same piece of dog killing legislation. Then we'd have to challenge it in court again. Then they could just rejig it again. And each time, it would have to be fought in court and eventually, the money to fight to law would run out and the law would still be there killing dogs.

The only way to fight this law is to fight public perception. Only when the majority of the public understands that BSL kills too many innocent dogs and is too unwieldy a hammer to effectively catch the dangerous ones, will the thick headed, populist politicians be moved to strike the law from the books.

But that's the big picture. Right now Ginger's life is very much on the line. I hope Huggins is working on an exit strategy.

From Ruby:

"This is a sentient being and we shouldn't be killing a dog unless it's done something wrong. Automatic killing without looking at the context is morally wrong."

Continued here.


Heather B said...

Great post Fred. Good to know Ginger is home at last. FYI..the money isn`t going to run out for any of these dogs that are unjustly condemned to die. There are enough of us out here trying to get the truth told and our numbers are growing daily. If there is a call for donations, they will come in . And you know why? Because we believe in truth and goodness. DOLA/BSL will be thrown out. It has to be done for all our sakes. Freedom is the basis of our Charter of Rights . When the Liberals started dickin with my freedoms,they pissed a whole lot of us off. There`s nothing worse than thousands of angry grey haired old ladies.

Ian said...

Your post clarified a lot for me about this law.
It is absolutely crazy.
There is no other word for it.
I see this case all over the Internet now and perhaps more people will begin to understand what`s happening to these poor pups and dogs that are being killed for no reason.
I understand more about the law now but I still don`t understand why they did this in the first place.

Roaming Tigress said...

BSL is ridiculous and I hope this law dies very soon. I was stopped some time back by an Animal Control officer while walking an SPCA dog. Apparently the mutt I was walking was a pit bull. I felt like a criminal giving a poor dog some exercise.

Social Mange said...

Ian, IMHO the McGuinty Liberals did this because their public approval rating at the time was in the sewer. They sent up their most active mouthpiece, someone who'd never met a microphone he didn't like, who jawed on and on and biased the public (with the help of mainstream media morons) against a shape of dog AND their owners. The Toronto Star kept saying all "pit bull" owners were criminals, until a friend threatened to sue them for libel. The Liberals ignored the evidence presented by canine experts at the Kangaroo Committee hearings, and proceeded with their death dealing law. People have moved out of this province because of this law, to keep their dogs safe. Other people have had their hearts broken because their dogs were killed by this law. Rescues were inundated getting good dogs and puppies out of the province. All for what? Political ambition. Which I believe causes moral corruption and ultimately moral bankruptcy.
I could go on and on....

Social Mange said...

If it's okay with Fred to list these, there are some blogs you should read if you're interested in learning more about breed-specific legislation. You'll have to go into the blogs' archives to find all the articles. (this is US and very good)

Ian said...

Thank You for the links