MONTREAL — A Quebec judge temporarily suspended Montreal's controversial regulation banning new pit bulls Monday and questioned whether the city overstepped its bounds in enacting the bylaw.
Superior Court Justice Louis Gouin heard arguments for a temporary stay and then authorized the immediate suspension of the pit bull-related clauses until 5 p.m. on Wednesday.
He is expected to rule before then whether the law should remain suspended until the legal case being mounted by the Montreal SPCA against it can be heard on its merits — a process that could be months away.
The SPCA was seeking the suspension of several pit bull-related parts of the animal control bylaw, which came into effect Monday.
Bless, an American Pit bull Terrier walks with its owner in Montreal, Sept. 25. (Photo: Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)
The suspension means pit bulls can still be adopted and muzzling is not mandatory as had been planned.
The Montreal branch of the animal rights organization argued some of the bylaw's provisions are discriminatory, unreasonable and unenforceable and will result in all pit bulls being penalized regardless of their behaviour.
City council voted last week in favour of the legislation, which included measures to prohibit new pit bulls on the territory of Montreal and place restrictions on those already there.
Provincial laws regarding municipalities say cities are allowed to legislate against errant or dangerous animals, but Gouin said Montreal may have overstepped the mark by placing an entire breed in a category described as dangerous.
"It's sad, but it's a legislative choice."
Rene Cadieux, a lawyer for the city, said Montreal legislators believe reasons of public security give them the right to determine what is dangerous. They elected to create a category rather than go case by case.
"It's sad, but it's a legislative choice," Cadieux said.
Gouin appeared dissatisfied with the arguments and invited the City of Montreal to revisit the bylaw and to narrow its focus.
"By using an elastic definition, there will be many more dogs who will be put into this category who will be muzzled and ... develop dangerous characteristics," Gouin said. "It might be worth it to reflect on this, go back to the drawing board."
'Pit-bull type dog'
A major issue is how to identify a "pit bull-type dog" as stated in the bylaw.
Gouin said he has certain concerns about that definition and how to properly recognize dogs it aims to describe.
"The City of Montreal is giving different responses to each person," SPCA lawyer Marie-Claude St-Amant told the court. "People are worried. They want to know and they don't know and even the city doesn't know how to interpret it."
St-Amant said some owners have been told a veterinary certificate will suffice, while others have been told to get a costly DNA test.
"If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it's gotta be a duck."
Cadieux said common sense will be used to apply the bylaw, which states American Staffordshire terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers and American pit bull terriers — or any dogs mixed with those breeds or that bear similar physical characteristics — are part of the ban.
"If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it's gotta be a duck," Cadieux said. "And people will look at it from this criteria"