If Ontario’s pit bull ban is serious, why are they still widely available?

Matthew Coutts
Daily Brew
If Ontario’s pit bull ban is serious, why are they still widely available?

Recent coverage of an Ottawa pit bull that was euthanized after mauling two children in recent weeks elicited a response that was, for those familiar with the pit bull lobby, expectedly in favour of the dog. This despite its violent history and despite an Ontario law banning the dog type in the province. Though there is now some doubt that law is worth much.

Ottawa police found no reason to proceed with a criminal investigation into the incident, those the pit bull has been put down. On Monday, I wrote that in this case, after this pit bull mauled one-year-old Cali Leclair just weeks after reportedly attacking another child, safety measures needed to be taken.

Many pit bull enthusiasts would not hear it. A man named Jason wrote in an email that it was the media's fault for "spreading negative feelings" about the type of dog. It’s a common refrain.

Mary Shaw pointed out that all types of dogs bite. "It is a wonder that more children are not bitten by family pets, given the plethora of photos and videos showing parents allowing their kids to ride, hit, poke, pinch and scream at the family dog," she wrote.

"Responsible pet ownership means taking responsibility, not only for the animal, but for your family's behaviour towards that animal."

That is a fair point, though I’ll direct you to a column by the National Post’s Barbara Kay and the statistics therein. Golden retrievers bite. So do schnauzers. And not all pit bulls are guilty of anything. Take this paralyzed pit bull pup, used as a therapy dog by the British Columbia SPCA.

But there is no debate that pit bulls are banned in Ontario, as well as other regions in Canada and the U.S. Though whether those bans have changed anything is very much a matter of debate.

For one, the definition of pit bull is somewhat ambiguous, being a type of dog rather than a specific breed. The term generally refers to Staffordshire bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers and American pit bull terriers , though others have been considered in the mix as well.

Ontario’s Dog Owners’ Liability Act says any dog identified as such, in writing, by the College of Veterinarians of Ontario is considered a pit bull. The City of Ottawa, where one-year-old Leclair was attacked over the weekend, seems to have its own doubts about the law.

Ottawa's bylaw and regulatory services chief, Linda Anderson, told the Ottawa Citizen that Ontario's pit bull bylaw was not being actively enforced in the city.

“The City of Ottawa has always taken the approach that we deal with problematic dogs regardless of their breed. Any dog that isn’t well-trained or well-behaved is capable of biting,” Anderson told the newspaper.

She added that enforcing the ban would take more manpower than most Ontario cities have available. Plus, again, it's hard to prove which dogs actually fall under the prohibition.

It has been nearly 10 years since the ban was introduced are, still, there are doubts that anything has changed at all. Take, for example, this online resale website that has a special section for pit bull breeding and resale in Ontario.

A litter of "pitbull puppies due June 3" is currently up for sale in Windsor, Ont. An eight-week-old Rotti Mix Pit is available in Toronto for $600. A Brampton pure bred pit bull named "Demon" can be rented as a stud at a cost of $350 per session.

No names attached to the advertisements, but no real attempt to hide them either. Seems it’s not hard to find pit bulls in Ontario, regardless of the ban.