Ontario's proposed ban on pit bulls amounts to "canine genocide," according to one of many animal rights groups appearing at public hearings into proposed legislation to outlaw the dog on Monday.
There is no justification to ban just one breed of dog, when other breeds also have also been known to attack people, said Cathy Prothro, president of the American Staffordshire Terrier Club of Canada.
"For this type of racial profiling, it amounts to nothing more than canine ethnic cleansing," she told the legislative committee, which opened public discussions of the proposed law on Monday.
Other animal rights activists also pleaded with the Ontario government to drop the idea of a breed-specific ban, saying there is no clear definition of a pit bull and a ban would do nothing to address the problem of irresponsible dog owners.
"Those owners of truly dangerous dogs of any breed will escape punishment because their breed is not targeted by this legislation," said Martha Russell of the National Capital Coalition for People and Dogs.
"What message is given to abusive and irresponsible individuals when only the dogs pay the price for their actions?"
The committee also heard concerns about the inability to clearly define the breed for the purpose of the provincial legislation.
"Defining a pit bull has proven to be a formidable legal hurdle in court cases because a pit bull is not a specific breed," said Christine Hartig, president of the Animal Shelter Administrators of Ontario.
"Any legislation should be based on behaviour of the animal, not the breed."
The City of Mississauga passed a resolution last year saying breed-specific bans were not an effective way to prevent dog bites or to protect the public from vicious dogs.
"There are particular difficulties in attempting to legislate a breed that is difficult to define," said Elaine Buckstein, the city's director of enforcement.
"In our experience, dog bites are not the sole domain of one breed, and pit bulls are not the only offender."
"How is it possible to ban something with no legal description or definition?," asked Ms. Prothro.
The public hearings, the first of three planned by the committee, began with an impassioned plea from a Toronto mother who watched helplessly as her young daughter was attacked by a pit bull in 1994.
"During these hearings, the victims will not be as loud as the animal rights activists, but our voice must be heard," said Louise Ellis, choking back tears.
"We stand trial every time we relive the horrific and terrifying ordeals with the pit bulls."
Ms. Ellis said she waited 10 years after her daughter was attacked before anyone would take the issue of pit bulls seriously. Her daughter Lauren, who was five years old at the time of the attack, required more than 300 stitches and still bears the scars where she was bitten in the face by a pit bull.
Ms. Ellis urged Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant not to back down from his proposed ban.
But other speakers accused Mr. Bryant of drafting the legislation based on emotion, saying there was no real need to target pit bulls.
"I find it very discouraging that our attorney general is ignoring the thousands of victims (of other dog attacks) simply because their attackers are not on his agenda," said Ms. Russell.
"The Attorney General has listened to the victims' emotional pleas, and responded to that."