Presentation to Ontario
February 2, 2005
Here is the text of my presentation to the Standing Committee on the
Legislative Assembly of Ontario. This committee was supposed to listen to all
the testimony, especially that of the experts, and then make recommendations
based on that testimony. However, the representation of political parties within
that committee matches the proportion of those parties in the Legislative
Assembly as a whole, which means that all recommendations suggested by this
committee essentially had to be approved by the Liberal government, who
introduced the original ban. Therefore, all votes by this committee fell exactly
along party lines and resulted in no useful recommendations whatsoever.
Here are links to all the other presentations (including the clause-by-clause
voting at the end of the hearings):
Mon 24 Jan 2005 - Toronto Presentations
Thu 27 Jan 2005 - Barrie Presentations
Wed 2 Feb 2005 - Brantford Presentations
Thu 3 Feb 2005 - Toronto Presentations
Thu 10 Feb 2005 - Toronto Clause-by-Clause
Here is the text of my presentation:
Dog Legislation Council of Canada
Wednesday, February 2, 2005 - 10:25 AM
Brantford & District Civic Centre
Presentation to the Standing Committee on the Legislative Assembly
Ladies and Gentlemen of the Committee:
My name is Steve Barker from the Dog Legislation Council of Canada.
I would first like to thank you for the opportunity to speak today and I would
like to thank all those involved in these hearings, including all the people
behind the scenes, for the hard work they have done to make these hearings a
The Dog Legislation Council of Canada, of which I am the Ontario Director, has a
- To promote responsible and accountable dog ownership,
- To assist communities in developing effective legislation that enforces that
- To educate the public regarding dog-bite awareness
Over the past few months, we have heard and read some public statements that
have been very difficult to accept. Much of this has been in the media, with
various members leaping to tenuous conclusions, quoting from highly questionable
sources, and misquoting or misusing statistics as if they were play dough to be
massaged and manipulated into a desired image.
As much as possible, the DLCC tries to correct these inaccuracies by bringing
them to the attention of the journalists and editors. We hope to gradually
change the climate in which these stories are created, so that the media will be
able to assist us in the bigger issue of dog-bite prevention from all breeds.
We have a much bigger issue, however, with a government that is willing to
accept erroneous and misleading information as fact, on which it then intends to
base laws, that in turn will deeply affect all of its constituents. As a person
who tends to analyze issues carefully and logically, I personally find this
attitude incomprehensible, and, as a taxpayer and a voter, I also find it
offensive. I was appalled at the ease with which this government accepted media
statements and suspect studies as God-given fact and then allowed these to guide
it onto its current path.
We feel that it is important to provide, in one single place, all of the
statements that have been made publicly over the past few months. Many of these
are statements by the Attorney General and we feel that, as a lawyer and as the
Attorney General of the largest province in the country, he and his office, more
than anyone else in this entire process, should have put a little more time and
effort into research and perhaps a little less into public pronouncements.
Attached to my presentation and also provided on CD are 12 groups of public
statements made in 2004 by various members of the government of Ontario. These
statements are either factually incorrect, scientifically disproved,
scientifically NOT provable, or significantly exaggerated.
Along with each of these groups of government statements, I have included
information from publicly documented studies that clearly contradict these
incorrect ideas. Sources for these excerpts include: The Canada Safety Council,
The Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, The Supreme Court of Alabama, The
Legislative Assembly of the United Kingdom, and various studies performed by
genetic scientists in the United States and Germany.
The substance of these statements is:
- "pit bulls" are inherently dangerous animals
- "pit bulls" are qualitatively different from other dogs
- "pit bulls" attack more frequently than other dogs
- "pit bulls" attack more viciously than other dogs
- "pit bull" incidents are significantly out of proportion to their
- we will have few problems identifying "pit bulls"
- "pit bulls" will not be abandoned to humane societies in large
- "pit bulls" will not be replaced by other breeds
- the government consulted with all possible experts
- the government has broad municipal support
I would like to address one of these questions, which actually encompasses a
number of areas. It appears to me that Mr. Zimmer, in particular, has been
asking this question throughout the hearings and I hope to shed some light on
"Are the three targeted breeds qualitatively different from other
This brings us to the heart of this legislation. Do we need to treat "pit
bulls" (as they are called in Bill 132) any differently from any other dog?
Over the years, due to a large population of the three targeted breeds and dogs
that look like them, due to some really bad owners who made some really bad
choices, and due to what is probably a significant number of breed
misidentifications, the "pit bull" has become a media favourite.
As the stories abound, this type of dog has become almost an urban legend, a
"super dog" if you will. Newspaper and TV coverage have caused the
average Canadian to believe that the typical "pit bull" always leaps
at the fence snarling as you walk by, that it is lying in wait for the next
postal worker or meter reader that dares invade its territory, that its drooling
lips and intense eyes means that it's just waiting to pounce on you if its owner
would just let it reach you.
It is images like these that make it to the newspapers, get published on web
site after web site, and then get regurgitated by politicians in their quest to
pacify that angry, media-informed public, despite the numerous scientific
studies that have disproved these theories once and for all.
In order to best answer the question, "are these breeds qualitatively
different", we must break it down into the major points that the government
has been making and discuss whether or not there is any factual, scientific, and
statistical basis for these statements.
1. Pit Bulls are inherently dangerous
The Supreme Court of Alabama, courts in New Jersey and Ohio, and a court in
Ontario have all accepted scientific evidence that "no breed is genetically
more aggressive than any other breed". This means that the American Pit
Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire Terrier, and the Staffordshire Bull
Terrier are no more or less inherently dangerous, simply because of breed.
A study conducted by Dr. Irene Sommerfeld-Stur in Vienna examined the genetic
aspect of aggression and also examined a number of bite statistic studies
throughout the world. It concluded that aggression was affected only
fractionally by genetics and that environment and training had significantly
more impact on the aggressiveness of a dog than who its parents were.
The Attorney General actually stated that, because there are insurance companies
that won't insure "pit bulls", that proves that they are dangerous. In
this country, there are insurance companies that will not insure German
Shepherds, Dobermans, or Rottweilers either, and yet the Attorney General has
stated on television that two of these breeds are not dangerous. Some of these
companies also refuse to insure Collies.
The Attorney General also stated that the German Shepherds he grew up with did
not attack anyone because they were properly trained, thus begging the question,
would they have attacked if they were not properly trained? And if so, would
they not have been inherently dangerous?
2. Pit Bulls attack more frequently than other dogs
In the Legislative Assembly, the Attorney General listed 11 "pit bull"
attacks on humans that had occurred with the previous 69 days. This was done to
demonstrate how frequently "pit bulls" attack. In that list, he made
no mention of how serious each of these incidents was, instead using the words
"attacked" and "mauled". He did not list attacks by other
Two of the cases listed by the Attorney General turned out not to be any of the
targeted breeds at all. One was a Rottweiler and the other a German Shepherd in
St. Catharine's, the very breed that he grew up with and publicly stated was not
During the 69-day period during which the remaining 9 incidents occurred, there
were an estimated MINIMUM of 4,600 dog bite incidents (and more likely over
6,000) in Ontario alone that required the victim to seek medical attention.
These estimates come from the Canada Safety Council, the Toronto Board of
Health, the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, and the U.S. National
Electronic Injury Surveillance System.
In Ontario, every single day, there are approximately 89 serious bites, bites
that require medical attention and usually at least one stitch.
In Canada, the targeted breeds and any other dogs that happen to be labelled
"pit bulls" account for less than 5% of all bites.
3. Pit Bulls attack more viciously than other dogs
The study quoted by the Attorney General that discusses both frequency of
attacks and severity of them is a well-known piece of fluff created by a man
named Merritt Clifton in Washington State. This man is currently being sued in
four separate court cases because he published his wildly inaccurate statistics.
These statistics, by his own admission, came only from media reports over a
period of 20 years. His mathematical methods of calculating total bites are
scientifically and statistically invalid.
One Liberal member stated, "One child attacked and one person killed is too
many for one breed of dog". The statistics in Canada clearly show that 12
different breeds are responsible for deaths from dog bites, including a Labrador
Retriever and the Attorney General's beloved German Shepherd breed.
In fact, that German Shepherd in St. Catharine's attacked two young boys. One of
those boys had serious bites to his face, his bones in his leg were crushed, and
he spent a day and a half unconscious in the hospital.
We also have some horrifying stories of very serious attacks by other breeds in
Ontario, many of which were given a paragraph or two in small-town newspapers
and almost no coverage in any large city or national newspapers. The TV coverage
was virtually non-existent.
4. Pit Bull incidents are significantly out of proportion to their population
Using actual registrations from the American Kennel Club, the United Kennel
Club, and the American Dog Breeders Association, the American Canine Foundation
determined that there are more than 5 million purebred American Pit Bull
Terriers in the United States. This equates to approximately 9% of the estimated
dog population and does not include any crossbreed, mutts, or "dogs that
look like pit bulls". Compare this to approximately 800,000 German
Shepherds and the bite numbers begin to fall into line with population.
At the same time that the American Kennel Club was registering 145,000 of its
most popular dog, the Labrador Retriever, that same year (and every year), the
American Dog Breeders Association was registering 225,000 American Pit Bull
Terriers or 55% more than the next most popular dog in America.
This was, and still is in many places, the All-American Family Dog.
Therefore, we can take a fresh look at the bite statistics and discover that the
"pit bull" type dog actually has one of the lowest bite ratios when
compared to its population.
So, if the answer to all of these questions is No, then the answer to the
ultimate question, the one on which the entire breed-specific portion of this
bill is based, must also be NO.
For your information, also on CD, I have included some of the best Dangerous Dog
and Animal Control legislation from across the continent, including:
- the city of Calgary
- the province of Saskatchewan
- the state of Illinois (known as Ryan Armstrong's law)
- the state of California (known as Cody's Law), and
- the state of New York.
These laws have clear definitions of what is and what is not acceptable
behaviour from a dog within a human society, what constitutes a breach of
responsibility by an owner, and what the consequences are of violating these
They clearly define menacing behaviour.
They define physical injury and, in some cases, they define degrees of injury,
with varying levels of penalty. They therefore allow for the difference between
the quick snap of an ill, frustrated, or cornered dog and the more serious
intent to injure that, fortunately, is a rare action by any breed.
You will find some consistent themes running through these laws:
- the owner must be in control of the dog at all times
- the owner is entirely responsible legally and financially for the actions of
- the owner faces significant repercussions from the state, both financial and
legal, if the dog bites, attacks, or attempts to attack
- the owner faces even more serious repercussions if the dog, once declared
dangerous, repeats the offence
- the dog is protected from deliberate provocation
Finally, I have included the 36 recommendations from the inquest into the death
of Courtney Trempe in 1998, the 26 recommendations from the inquest into the
death of James Waddell in 2003, and a paper entitled "A community approach
to dog bite prevention", published by the American Veterinary Medical
Association's Task Force on Canine Aggression and Human-Canine Interactions.
The president of this organization and the one of the primary members of that
task force, Dr. Bonnie Beaver, has already spoken to this committee, as has
Donna Trempe, Courtney's mother.
Again, there are consistent themes throughout these documents:
- education of dog owners, parents, children, and the general public
- licensing and regulation of breeders, pet shops, shelters, trainers, dog
owners and their dogs
- enforcement of responsible and accountable dog ownership
- municipal, provincial, and federal support
A huge amount of work has gone into these laws, studies, and recommendations.
They have been assembled by bite victims, doctors, lawyers, lawmakers,
scientists, veterinarians, animal behaviourists, breeders, insurance companies,
and animal control departments. These documents are not minor nor are they
frivolous. They are not the product of personal or political agendas from lobby
groups or politicians. They have been created with one goal, and only one goal:
To reduce dog bites from all breeds.
That is the ultimate question to this committee and to this government:
Do you really want to reduce the injuries caused by all dog bites in this
province, from all breeds? If so, then you would be well advised to review these
documents carefully and with an open mind, because they hold the key. The work
has already been done; the solutions have already been found and proven.
If you were to read through these documents with the objective of learning and
understanding, and if you were to make a few simple changes to this bill, based
on these documents, then every single professional organization, every ethical
breeder, every responsible owner would be knocking on your door saying,
"How can I help?"
Instead, we are looking forward to years of acrimony, court cases, unnecessary
spending, pointless euthanasia, and a constant never-ending battle that is
simply going to waste everyone's time, energy, and money when they could be
better spent on many other issues.
The only people who are going to benefit from this bill are the media and the
Albert Einstein once said, "The definition of insanity is doing the same
thing over and over again and expecting a different result".
We already know what works and what doesn't. We have more history, more results,
and more information than ever before. It is not necessary for us to repeat the
mistakes of the past.