MONTREAL — The fight over Montreal's contentious pit bull legislation comes to a head this week as city lawmakers are set to weigh the merits of the bylaw amid a last-ditch counter-offensive by opponents trying to convince them it's unnecessary.
Mayor Denis Coderre's ruling party has tabled a proposed bylaw that would ban new pit bulls from the city and place strict rules those living here now, including that they be sterilized and muzzled when in public.
The proposed ban was announced in June following a string of dog attacks, including a fatal one involving 55-year-old Christiane Vadnais, who was killed in her Montreal backyard.
Councillors are expected to debate the bylaw on Tuesday after adjourning the council meeting on Monday night before getting to it.
Demonstrators make their point in front of Montreal City Hall as they oppose a law to be voted on which will ban pit bull dogs in the city of Montreal. (Photo: CP)
On Monday night, those opposed to the law demonstrated outside Montreal City Hall and the pit bull issue came up repeatedly during public question period.
The proposed law has outraged fans of the breed, who maintain that legislation targeting one type of dog isn't effective in reducing dog bites.
Rather, they say a combination of education, regulations and strict penalties for irresponsible owners is the best strategy to ensure public safety.
The public debate has been heated, with dog lovers protesting in the city's streets and lining up at city council meetings to repeatedly question Coderre on the issue.
"We're not going to participate in euthanizing of thousands of healthy dogs."
— Benoit Tremblay, Montreal SPCA
The Montreal SPCA has said it will stop providing dog services to the city if the ban is adopted.
"We're not going to participate in euthanizing of thousands of healthy dogs,'' executive director Benoit Tremblay said. "It's against our values.''
SPCAs across the province joined forces last week to launch a website featuring expert advice that debunks breed bans and provides alternate solutions to reduce dog bites.
"We hope the administration will look at this in a scientific light, review their position, listen to real experts, and have a real policy to prevent dangerous dogs,'' Tremblay said.
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The Montreal SPCA has said there would continue to be abandoned and stray pit bulls and — because they cannot be adopted any longer — "healthy dogs and puppies would necessarily be sentenced to death.''
Despite the backlash from some groups, Coderre has remained committed to the ban, stating that it is designed to increase safety.
Several other cities, including Quebec City, have announced or discussed bans, and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard has suggested he may follow Ontario's lead in implementing a blanket ban.
Ontario has banned the breed since 2005. Pit bulls are also prohibited in many Canadian cities, including Winnipeg.
Bless, an American Pit Bull Terrier, is treated to a free grooming session by Anna Maria Ranieri at Pampered Pets in Montreal Sept. 25, 2016. (Photo: CP)
That has advocates preparing for the worst.
In Westmount, one business held a pit bull spa day on Sunday, offering free baths, grooming and treats to 20 dogs.
Although the municipality is outside Montreal and therefore unaffected by the bylaw, Pampered Pets of Westmount owner Anna Maria Ranieri said she wanted to make a statement that the dogs are welcome.
"This is a really emotional time that affects all of us as owners, and I just wanted to give these dogs a good day,'' she said.
Tremblay says the SPCA will work to send as many dogs as possible to other provinces, although he concedes they will only be able to save a fraction.
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard has suggested he may follow Ontario's lead in implementing a blanket ban on pit bulls. (Photo: CP)
Sabrina Sabbah, an organizer of a coalition opposed to the ban, said advocates are prepared to fight the legislation in court.
She noted dog owners were also planning a demonstration in front of city hall ahead of the vote that would include a moment of silence to remember Vadnais.
"I can't imagine losing my mother that way,'' she said. "It's horrific, but we can't lose sight of the real issues and what's about to happen.''
— With files from Sidhartha Banerjee