Sunday, August 25, 2019

The History of breed specific legislation in Nova Scotia

Nova Scotian's pride themselves for being free thinkers - we like to think that we are generally kind, accepting of everyone and welcoming of anyone who wants to come and join into our loving society that we have here in our little province.

So you'd think that we wouldn't give in to the lesser impulses of thinking that some animals don't deserve to live on this earth while giving elevated status to other animals - but unfortunately there are a couple tiny pockets of Nova Scotia who have given in to those impulses - namely the district of the municipality of Antigonish, the town of Digby, the town of Clark's Harbour (Clark's Harbour bylaw is not online), and the municipality of district of Guysborough (although they did say last year that they plan to change their bylaw to remove specific dog breeds thank to the advocacy around a dog named Chico)

It's currently come to the forefront because of a dog named Gizmo owned by Mason Landry in the town of Clark's Harbour.  Their dog bylaw with breed specific legislation written into it has been in force since 2011 - it's never been enforced until they demanded Gizmo leave the town last month because their may Leigh Stoddart said that "most people know you're not supposed to have certain breeds in town.  We're just reinforcing that".

He also said the most unbelievable statement

"I think most reasonable people would conclude that a pit bull isn't a therapy dog"

I think that the literally THOUSANDS of pit bull therapy dogs and their owners would  take exception to that statement.  That hearkens back to when then Warden of the Municipality of the district of Guysborough Lloyd Hines made the equally unbelievable statement "I don't want to be the warden of the Municipality of Guysborough and have to go to the funeral of some kid who was eaten."

Luckily - Mr Hines is no longer the Warden there and last year Guysborough pledged to remove their bsl - unlike Clark's Harbour who is digging in their heels and is going to court to try and force Gizmo's owner to either give up their dog or move.

I'm glad that Clark's Harbour is going to court - because we've seen that when municipal bylaws are put to the test in Nova Scotia - they are found to not be able to stand up to the test of jurisprudence - Mr Hines - took his bylaw to the test - and lost.

In 2006 Mr. Hines was trying to kill 2 dogs - Zeus and Sandy - for the offence of having the physical characteristics of a breed of dog that doesn't actually exist - the breed of pit bull - and their owner - Marilyn Cameron loved her dogs enough that she and her husband decided to go to court to fight the heinous order - and they won.

Justice Robert Stroud declared that the bylaw was too broad and over reaching and was laden with difficulties from an enforcement point of view.  Because of his findings Justice Stroud expected that the bylaw would be rewritten - but it never was - and the bylaw as written still exists today - even though last year the elected officials said that they bylaw would be rewritten to take the breed portions of it's dangerous dog section out.

In Nova Scotia - we do not have a problem any worse or any better with dogs and dog attacks - although we've never had anyone die from a dog attack.

What we do have however is a province in love with dog advocacy - I'd say we have a higher than average number of people who love all animals.  And it's because of that when we hear of an injustice we tend to organize.  So when we hear of areas that have something as unnecessary of breed specific legislation in our province - we realize that its not an effective type of legislation and we try to have it removed.

We have had more bsl around the province - previously we had it in the town of Shelburne, and it was discussed in many places - the town of Yarmouth stands out as somewhere that it was almost implemented - as well, Stellarton also talked about bsl, there was a huge uproar by dog owners and the people in charge said it was just an "administrative mixup" and they never meant to say that they were talking about it" there was such a dustup from dog owners about it.

It was also discussed in the Halifax Regional Municipality at many points - even up to a couple years ago.  I remember sending an email to all the HRM's councillors about why bsl is ineffective and getting a reply back from then Councillor Gloria McClusky and getting a response back from her saying "yes, but how do we figure out which breeds to ban then?"  HILARIOUS!

A big problem with breed specific legislation when it comes to Nova Scotia municipal bylaws is where all muncipal bylaws draws their legislation from - and that is the Municipal Government Act.  That is provincial legislation and that includes bsl in it - what it exactly says is:

Dog by-law
175 (1) Without limiting the generality of Section 172, a council may make by-laws
(e) defining fierce or dangerous dogs, including defining them by breed, cross-breed, partial breed or type;
(f) regulating the keeping of fierce or dangerous dogs;

So today - ANY town or city in Nova Scotia could add that into their dog bylaw - and tomorrow if you own a dog that physically looks like any dog that your dog catcher thinks might have any physical characteristic of any breed that they think might be similar to anything that might include a dog that they've defined as dangerous - ie a pit bull terrier, a staffordshire bull terrier, a rottweiller, a cane corso, a boston terrier or any cross of any of those breeds - and that doesn't mean that they actually have to BE that breed - they just have to physically LOOK like that animal - so they could be a labrador retriever, a short haired collie, a beagle - they really could be any dog with short hair, small ears, a mastiff mix, having a wide smile - you could be the target of your dog catcher and overnight your life will become hell - even if you've lived with no problems whatever for your whole life.

So we here in Nova Scotia - we who are peace loving, quiet people -are not immune to this heinous type of legislation - we have it here and we've had it for a long time and most people don't even know we've had it.

We even almost had it province wide - in 2006 the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities started up a working group to work on dog legislation across the province - and guess what - Lloyd Hines was the president of the UNSCM at the time - what a coincidence - in an article Hines said he'd like to see bsl go province wide and in fact country wide.

In Nova Scotia it was called Bill 138 and they tried to pass it along with other "housekeeping bills" - but luckily regular dog owners caught it in time and it never passed.

I hope people - people who own dogs and people who don't own dogs, know that breed specific legislation does not work at protecting anyone from dogs who attack.  All it does is rip good dogs from owners who love them.  99% of the time the dogs have never done anything but love their owners and be friendly to everyone they encounter.

What DOES work is dangerous dog legislation - what we have in almost every place right now in Nova Scotia except for the places I've noted above.

What dangerous dog legislation does is make dogs and their owners accountable for their behaviours - if a dog acts aggressively then there are things that are going to have to happen - either they might have to be muzzled in public, or they might be seized, they might have to wear only a short leash in public, there are a number of things that might happen - but it is all based on the dog - and the dog might be a 10 pound poodle - or it may be a 100 pound black russian terrier - it doesn't matter.

Do you know what breed specific legislation does not do though?  It does not give any satisfaction or justice to anyone that is attacked or harmed by anyone who had that happen by a dog that ISN'T a pit bull type dog.  So if you are attacked and harmed by say a german shepherd - that dog generally isn't affected by bsl - so what is an attack victim by a dog like that to do? Generally in a jurisdiction that has bsl has no recourse - that dog gets to live and go about their business.

Does that sound fair to you?  No it doesn't - so that is why dangerous dog legislation - where EVERY dog is treated the same is better.

And also guess what - EVERY type of dog can be a therapy dog - EVERY type of dog can be a service animal - EVERY type of dog can be a police dog - and dogs are proving this every day.

I feel bad for Mayor Leigh Stoddart that he doesn't realize this.

So my advice for the people of Nova Scotia who are living in an area that currently has breed specific legislation - write to your councillors - you are the only ones who can change your bylaws - people from outside can't do it - no one is going to listen to me writing to Mayor Stoddart.  But someone living inside Clark's Harbour writing to him - he will have to listen to them.

Here in Nova Scotia - we love our dogs - there is no denying that - you can't leave your house without seeing someone with their dogs - it's hard to believe - but some places are actually not like that - we take it so for granted here - we live in a very special place here and we should not take that for granted.

I have been saying for many many years that I really wish that we could have the bsl taken out of our municipal government act - if that was taken out then places like Clark's Harbour would not be able to have bsl put in - it's as simple as that.  Unfortunately so far I've been unsuccessful.  Maybe before I die it will happen, but so far I have had no luck.

Maybe someone else will have more luck on that front.

I wish Mason Landry and his dog Gizmo and his lawyer Regan Murphy luck - if past legal cases in this subject are indicative in this trial - they should have good luck :)

Here is a couple articles from the newspaper:

So this editorial was in the Chronicle Herald August 25th, 2019 - I wrote a letter to the Editor the same day about it:

"I agree with your editorial from August 24, 2019 when you stated that pit bull bans are ineffective. 

The bans target dogs based exclusively on how a dog appears and nothing else - they are not based on a dogs behaviour, whether they are actually aggressive or anything else that makes a community safer - but what they do in fact do is tear apart families and kill dogs that have done nothing in their life but have short hair and a wide smile. 
Nova Scotians have lived through what Mason Landry is currently going through in Clark's Harbour. 

In 2008 current MLA Lloyd Hines tried to kill 2 dogs in the municipality of the district of Guysborough - Zeus and Sandy - and their owner Marilyn Cameron fought in court for their lives and won. Justice Robert Stroud said that the municipal bylaw was "broad and overreaching" and was "laden with . . . difficulties from an enforcement point of view." Justice Stroud expected the bylaw to be rewritten but funnily enough in the last 11 years it has never been and the bsl in the municipality of the district of Guysborough still stands as originally written. It also exists in the municipality of the district of Antigonish, the county of Richmond, the town of Digby, and of course - the town of Clark's Harbour. I'm glad to see that Mayor Leigh Stoddart is going to pursue this case in court - because his bylaw iswritten very similarly to Guysborough's bylaw - so I expect they will lose in court the same way that Lloyd Hines lost in 2008 and Mr Landry will be able to keep his dog like Ms Cameron was able to keep her dogs. 
One thing I have to quibble with you about your editorial is when you say that an easy answer may be just to ask Mr Landry to muzzle his dog when out in public. Why should he have to do that? His dog is no different than any other dog and has in fact been certified as a therapy dog - there is absolutely no reason why he should be forced to wear a muzzle when outside."