5. The Pit Bull Problem

The changes made to the Dog Owners’ Liability Act in 2005 effectively implemented the first government-mandated breed ban in North America. The ban defined “pit bull” to include several breeds — pit bull terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, American pit bull terriers and any dog that “has an appearance and physical characteristics substantially similar to any of those dogs” are covered by the ban. [1]

The ban followed a particularly shocking year for dog attacks in Ontario. In 2004, there were 168 reported pit bull bites in the province. Three attacks in particular garnered a great deal of media attention – including one where two dogs were shot and killed by police after attacking a person. [2] The ban came into effect in 2005.

In 2014 the Star led an investigation into the ban that revealed “a remarkable drop in pit bull bites” since the ban was implemented. [3] Following the publication of the investigation, the Toronto Star penned an editorial entitled “Ontario’s pit bull ban is working and mustn’t be repealed.” The Star’s editorial recapped the brutal attacks from the summer of 2004 as examples of the dangers of the breed and emphasized that data indicated the number of attacks had dropped substantially in the years since the ban was passed. “The law is working. The public is being protected,” states the editorial. “There is no reason for repeal.” [4].

Roughly a month before the tips about pit bulls being sold online landed on Winter’s desk, the City of Montreal passed its own ban on the breed. The vote took place in September 2016 and covered the new ownership of pit bulls or pit bull-type breeds. The ban has been in effect since October 2016. City officials had been discussing the possibility of a ban with a timeline of 2018 in mind, however, public pressure sped up the timeline after a 55-year-old woman was mauled and killed by a pit bull in June 2016. [5] Montreal’s ban revived the debate about dangerous breeds across the country, drawing out the old dichotomy between those who blamed the biological propensities of the dogs and those who put the onus on owners who failed to train and socialize them properly.

In a statement to the CBC, the Montreal SPCA said, “If the City of Montreal truly wanted to ensure public safety, it would not have forced a rushed adoption of controversial legislation which is unfair, unenforceable, and, most importantly, ineffective.” [6]  These allegations by the animal agency echoed the claims made by Star readers in the emails that landed on Winter’s desk. The story satisfied the public interest portion of the undercover test: if the ban wasn’t doing its job of improving public safety by eliminating these breeds, then the public had a right to know.



[1] https://www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/english/about/pubs/dola-pubsfty/dola-pubsfty.php


[3] https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2014/10/03/pit_bulls_were_torontos_biggest_biters_before_the_ban.html




Next: 6. The Results of the Undercover