Since introducing my private member’s bill Bill M212 — Animal Liability Act, 2016 earlier this month I have had the opportunity to meet with a number of individuals and my office has been in contact with various organizations and concerned constituents.
There has been overwhelming support for the notion that BC needs some sort of legislation to encourage responsible pet ownership. Dog attacks happen every day and for the most part it is from irresponsible owners. To begin the conversation as to how we can more effectively deal with irresponsible pet owners I introduced a bill in the Legislature on April 6.
We’ve received numerous emails and comments on our proposed bill and while virtually all the correspondence is from people supporting the bill, a number raised some important concerns.
One concern has been around provoked attacks. Obviously pet owners may feel concern that they would be held liable if their dog was provoked into attacking someone. While ultimate liability would still rest with the owner, the bill I introduced clearly states that the actions of the plaintiff must factor into any decision. Section 2 of the bill I introduced states, “the court shall reduce the damages awarded in proportion to the degree, if any, to which the fault or negligence of the plaintiff caused or contributed to the harm.”
Simply put, this does not, nor is it intended to, put full liability on pet owners if their dog acts out of self defence or in response to aggression. The context that led to a bite is as important as the fact that a bite took place.
As with any piece of legislation, the regulations behind this bill are integral to its operation. The bill itself assigns liability but should also be considered enabling. For example, regulations could provide more context around defining important terms such as an “unprovoked attack” or whether specially-trained dogs could limit their owners liability (such as guide dogs for instance). Regulations could change the rules around pet ownership, and there is ample room to have the regulations address dog-training programs to encourage more responsible ownership. There could also be increased penalties for repeated offenses of irresponsible pet owners.
Indeed, regulations, if developed properly with consultation and forethought, could address many if not all of the gaps in this legislation. Pretty much every piece of legislation introduced has a number of regulations that are behind it, and if enacted this bill would be no different.
One final concern that has arisen is how this legislation might affect the adoption of rescue animals. Some might see this bill as increasing the barriers to adopting an animal, however, I think it ensures that animals that need additional support and help are going to families that understand their responsibilities and are prepared to provide what is needed. In my view, this is a positive step as I don’t think it is wise for irresponsible pet owners to adopt rescue animals.
Ultimately I brought this issue forward because there is a gap in our legislative framework in BC regarding pets and pet ownership liability. Other provinces have addressed it, and while I don’t think it is wise to follow Ontario’s lead in banning certain breeds, we do need something to ensure that pet owners are responsible for the behaviour of their pets and that there are stiff penalties for not being a responsible pet owner.
Since introducing the bill my office has reached out to a number of organizations and we have been in contact with the Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development as a way to move this issue forward.
I welcome discussion on this topic and I am hopeful that the interest that this bill has generated gives the government the push it needs to start working towards a solution for British Columbians.