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Coalition of breeders plans legal challenge if pit bulls are banned

TORONTO

al advocates are threatening legal action if the Ontario government passes legislation that imposes a provincewide ban on pit bulls.

Prominent Canadian defence lawyer Clayton Ruby said yesterday that a coalition of breeders, including the American Staffordshire Bull Terrier Club of Canada and the pro-pit-bull organization Advocates for the Underdog, is considering a constitutional challenge if the breed is outlawed.

Pit bull owners and those who say the breed should be banned squared off yesterday at the first day of public hearings into the proposed legislation. Attorney-General Michael Bryant has been at the forefront of the proposal, which supporters of pit bulls say unfairly targets responsible dog owners.

"What the Attorney-General has given us is a quick, cheap fix," Mr. Ruby told a press conference yesterday. "The idea that you can focus on breeds rather than on bad owners and bad dogs is . . . not attractive once you've thought it through."

Mr. Ruby said the legislation could be challenged in court because it does not clearly define a pit bull. "The legislation has got to have enough certainty so that you as a citizen have a right to [understand] its meaning," he said.

"It's limited to one breed, two breeds, and other dogs that are similar, whatever the hell that means," he added.

The coalition is calling on the government to do away with the ban, saying that such a move will not do anything to stop some dog owners from being irresponsible.

"People who are determined to have vicious dogs change from one breed to another. So you cannot solve the problem this way," Mr. Ruby said.

Instead, the group wants the Liberal government to train owners and refuse negligent ones the right to have a dog.

Mr. Bryant was not available for comment yesterday, but Bob Delaney, who is chairing the legislative committee, said the four days of hearings will allow the government to hear both sides. The committee heard testimony yesterday that at times was emotional. Louise Ellis, a Toronto mother, watched as her five-year-old daughter was attacked by a pit bull in 1994.

Ms. Ellis was concerned yesterday that supporters of the breed would have a louder voice in the hearings.

"I am afraid the victims will be lost," she said outside the committee room.

Other speakers said there was no need to target pit bulls. Tim Zaharchuk, president of the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association, pointed to a Canadian study that says that 23 humans have died from dog attacks since 1983.

Fifty-five dogs were involved in those attacks, and only one -- an American Staffordshire Terrier -- would be banned under the proposed legislation, Dr. Zaharchuk said.

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