(1) 250.472.8528
andrew.weaver.mla@leg.bc.ca

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.

Four-year-old George Brown from Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, recovers at home today after being mauled by a dog.There are an untold number of circumstances that could occur and I think it is preferable to allow the court to figure out the degree of liability based on the circumstance.

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.

12 Comments

  1. August 29, 2016 at 4:46 am

    Hello Andrew!

    Even though we are not based in Canada, we’re still very concerned about the subject. Would you kindly give us an update?

    Thank you in advance and good luck in everything!

    • August 30, 2016 at 12:31 pm

      The government so far has not wanted to deal with moving animal-focused as opposed to owner-focused legislation. I am hopeful that there will be a change soon.

  2. Andrew Weaver-
    April 26, 2016 at 4:36 pm

    re: Section 49 of the Community Charter vs the Animal Liability Act

    It has been brought to my attention that a number of individuals have concerns that my animal liability act would add to a problem that many dog owners are already trying to resolve. I want to assure everyone that this is not the case.

    Section 49 in the Community Charter of BC is the current legislation with which a number of dog owners have significant issue. This part of the Community Charter allows an animal control officer to act on behalf of the interests of the municipality to seize dangerous dogs and apply for a provincial court order for the dog to be destroyed. Under the act, dogs may not be impounded and detained for more than 21 days.

    I’ve heard from a few people now that section 49 is unfair to dog owners and that something needs to be done about this piece of legislation. I don’t doubt that there are some instances where section 49 has been abused and family dogs have been destroyed without a lot of evidence. Clearly, there may be some reforms needed to section 49.

    However, the bill that I brought in has nothing to do with the seizure of “dangerous dogs”. It does not affect section 49, but it does now make pet owners liable. Currently, if a dog severely bites someone, under section 49 that dog could be seized and destroyed. However, the owner would not necessarily face any charges or be responsible for any damages, and to make matters worse that owner could go and get a new dog the next day.

    The evidence clearly points towards irresponsible pet owners being the problem, and right now our legislation only penalizes the dogs themselves. The bill I brought forward contains nothing about when an animal can be seized or the process by which that happens. The bill I brought forward is strictly intended to make irresponsible owners liable for the actions of their pets. It is a framework from which other regulations could be added to solve the problem of dog attacks in a proactive way.

    • Karen Stiewe-
      April 29, 2016 at 8:52 am

      That’s not quite correct. Dogs cannot be detained for more than 21 days UNLESS an Application to Destroy is filled in court which is exactly what ACO’s do. Then the dog is held until a hearing determines whether the dog is dangerous or not or whether the dog can be released with conditions. This hearing might be scheduled for a future date that is many months or years down the road and the dog remains confined until that time. In addition, there are impoundment fees charged usually $20/day or more, other fines may be applicable under the Bylaw or Court Order as well as legal fees that are incurred in defense. So your statement that there are no costs to the dog owner is not at all the case.

    • Kathleen Dawson-
      April 29, 2016 at 10:03 am

      Thank you for acknowledging that there are some problems with DD 49. Truthfully there are many onerous problems and these problems can only be resolved by the abolition of the Dangerous Dog Act Section 49 or it must be seriously amended and this can only happen in the BC Legislature. There are several dog owners in BC that have been adversely affected by this DD49 and many many more who fear that their dogs will also be misunderstood ,seized by animal control and not kept for 21 days as you say but instead 1 to 2 years inside a small cell meant for short term stays. I have worked on these cases but have never been a direct victim of this lunacy. It is cruel and terribly misguided and dreadfully misunderstood legislation that is used by people that have no idea about animal behaviour. These “people” have the control and the power to destroy a dog and a dog owners life . I put it into strong picture language to make my point as you are not understanding the abuse that is occurring with this legislation. Understand the impact that this legislation has had and you might begin to grasp why Bill W-212 will also have and that is that more dogs will be destroyed by the same people that have way too much power and control over the lives of dogs and dog owning families. Here is the picture. While Bill W212 will not directly seize a dog it will indirectly accomplish that goal because so many cases will be as they are now that innocent dogs are deemed dangerous because some people just fear dogs period. Dog owners will therefore have their day in court to fight the liability W 212 will place on them just because a dog escaped and ran through someone’s picnic and screamed dangerous dog!
      I get your explanation on dog owner liability. With photos’ of badly injured kids and small pets too I get this thread. The problem with your Bill W-212 and with DD 49 is that when an dog problem is investigated the assessment of what occurred is faulty. Sadly when the incident is serious and a person is injured there is little argument that a dog needs to be destroyed and an owner liable. What will happen however and as it is with DD49 is that innocent dogs will be killed because they are wrongfully accused. They are wrongfully accused by persons who know nothing about animal behaviour aiding people who do not understand dogs either. The dog owner has no rights at all to protect the family dog from this nor does the dog owner have any power at all to prevent a uniformed animal control officer from dragging the family dog out of the house on a catch pole in front of children who sleep with this pet! Again I describe these events in pictures too to make my point, a point you seem reluctant to recognize.
      I have no doubt that to the public who are unaware of the severely punitive dog legislation we already have in BC that Bill W 212 will be an easy sell for you but given the persecution that dog owners have already felt and those who will learn in future how dangerous it is to own a dog in BC people will have no option but to leave BC and live elsewhere. Andrew Weaver laws and Bills are relatively easy to write but their enforcement or their application can be a nightmare that can ruin lives.

  3. Kathleen Dawson-
    April 23, 2016 at 1:39 pm

    I strongly believe that the dangerous dog legislation in British Columbia is in need of a review by all political parties. I would like to explain why this is necessary.

    Karen Stiewe undertook a comparative study of dangerous dog legislation in Canada. Her research demonstrated clearly that British Columbia has the most punitive dangerous dog legislation in Canada. A hand signed petition with 1700 signatures was also presented in the BC Legislature a clear statement that British Columbia dog owners strongly object to the present legislation and how it is being used.

    There is considerable frustration among responsible dog owners over the use of the dangerous dog act Section 49 in British Columbia. We have worked on several cases to free innocent family dogs from this vague legislation. This process is exhausting, has significant emotional and financial impact on everyone. Its application is nothing less than brutal and draconian in nature. Now, Bill W-212 has been presented in the BC Legislature for its first reading and we understand that this is to place the liability directly on the owner of the dog and also a property owner as well should any other person’s dog be involved in an incident on their property. Bill W-212 on top of DD49 is onerous. The problem is that those who have the power and control to seize a dog do so without understanding what drives any dog to react or cause harm or even just effect a fearful reaction from human beings. Few people understand why dogs bite and until we do through education, dog bites will continue to occur. We cannot seize, punish and kill our way to solving this problem. What is happening is we kill just in case and this is wrong. It is also ignorant.

    No one disputes that any dog that bites to seriously injure a human being or kills a human being should be put down but the reason or reasons why any dog does seriously harm needs to be understood. Without understanding we will never learn how to prevent dog bites. No matter how punitive legislation is the public will still feel they are at risk because dog incidents will continue. Fear grows, frustration increases and this too is largely to do with ignorance as well. Communities suffer.

    We must begin to understand what causes people and dogs to react or why some dogs clash with one another. This is key to prevention and also key to preventing the wrongful seizure of innocent dogs. This has happened on several occasions and it needs to stop! We need to educate everyone that has anything to do with dogs and this includes dog owners and animal control as well. The only way to prevent dog bites is to understand what triggers a dog bite.

    Instead of reactive legislation, which is what punitive legislation is, how about proactive legislation whereby dog owners must take a course on how to raise a dog everyone can live with. Perhaps have a two-tiered license fee that costs less if your dog can pass a temperament test or a canine good citizen test. Leash laws would keep people and dogs safe. Off leash is at the dog owner’s risk at dog parks. Owning a dog comes with responsibility and only education will make it so. Dogs and children need supervision 100% of the time.

    As a dog owner and a dog trainer for a couple of decades I know that dogs can be misjudged by animal control or anyone else for that matter. Animal Control rarely sees a dog bite incident and so the evidence is hearsay, it is also upsetting and the easiest thing to do is condemn the bigger dog that did the major or even minor damage. Dogs have been seized for a dime size bruise! This is the main cause of immense distress by dog owners whose rights are severely oppressed by the power and control by Animal Control! A dog can be seized for a very minor offence! When an appeal is launched the family dog spends months even years in a cage meant for short-term stays. Veterinary care is extremely limited. Owners do not have access to Veterinary records. Dogs do not get exercise, intellectual stimulation or regular visitation by family. People and their dogs breakdown and deteriorate quickly. I am going to share with you some recommendations to relieve this situation so that when family pets are seized for any reason that the situation does not deteriorate at a rapid rate. I should mention at this time as well that while dogs may have no rights human beings do and they should have the right to protect their property. Dogs are considered property under the law.
    I have sent some information and also recommendations to your assistant Aldous Sperl I hope you will read them and obtain some insight to the damage that the Dangerous Dogs Act Section 49 has done to dog owners in British Columbia I hope you will consider a review of this legislation and indeed the negative impact Bill W 212 will have on innocent dog owners.

    • April 25, 2016 at 9:13 am

      Let’s not forget that dealing with the liability would tend to incentivize responsible pet ownership.

      • Kathleen Dawson-
        April 25, 2016 at 5:17 pm

        I understand your motivation is to make dog owners more responsible. I also wish for this as many people do. I urge you to read my recommendations I sent to your administrative assistant Aldous Sperl. The other information you need to review is that many innocent dogs have been seized, killed , kept in small cages for a year or two that are not dangerous dogs at all. They are seized and I will be clear here as clear as I can be by saying that these dogs have not been dangerous and yet they are treated as such. Your legislation and the Dangerous Dog Legislation Section 49 is hurting families in BC. This punitive legislation may indeed be removing dogs that have injured people and other animals but it is also killing naughty dogs and it is our observation that animal control does not know the difference between a naughty dog,a dog that might be a nuisance at a picnic, a dog that might get into trouble because another dog upset them or came too close to them, overwhelmed them ,a dog that was perhaps startled out of a deep sleep, a dog reacted because it was guarding a resource etc. Dogs do not deserve to die for these incidents they need to be taught boundaries by their owners or given to someone who will teach them boundaries! Great dog owners, responsible dog owners are not daring to leave their own properties with their dogs because every dog incident that happens has the great potential that it will be misunderstood that their dog is a bad dog. I think this is a most dreadful set of circumstances and as far as I can tell those that deem a dog is dangerous has never in their life seen a dangerous dog! This won’t do at all. Dangerous dogs are created by people .Dangerous dogs are dangerous all the time. Dangerous dogs are fed with a stick Dangerous dogs do not walk down a hall to the killing room while being led on a leash by an animal control officer they have learned to love and trust! This is just so wrong. We need new job creation in BC and that is rehabilitation for dogs and dog owners where they both can find help to raise and handle dogs everyone can live with. There is so much to learn about responsible dog ownership and I strongly believe we need legislation for this and not more of the endless seizing, jailing and destroying. Its wrong it does not protect the public at all in fact it will be dangerous as dogs will become less socialized because people will stay home and go no where with their dogs. Lets not politicize dog policies and laws. Lets not create endless fear. Punitive laws are not working. They are hurting families. Please review this situation. Familiarize yourself with the stories and the families that have been hurt before you add more punitive legislation for dog owners.

        • April 25, 2016 at 8:01 pm

          I’m not going to defend section 49. But I am willing to defend my assignment of liability. There are two different conversations happening here. One on section 49 (which I accept has flaw) and the other is my bill. You cannot combine them as section 49 is in the community charter. That is a separate debate.

      • Karen Stiewe-
        April 26, 2016 at 1:08 pm

        Just as average citizens are unaware of the existence of Section 49, they will be unaware of this law making it impossible to achieve your desired outcome which, in my opinion, is the responsibility of local government who have many “punitive” measures in place to promote responsible pet ownership. I’d like to know how you see this Bill working in practice and how you see it promoting “responsible pet ownership”? What if a dog owner can’t pay the fine? Is the dog impounded for a period of time? How long? Months? Years? Until the fine is paid? And you intend to add “impoundment fees” to that fine. Is the dog euthanized or rehomed if the owner is financially unable to pay the fine and impoundments fees or defend himself against an action in court? How much money will these additional court actions cost the BC taxpayer? Are you aware that the BC Supreme Court has twice ruled that impoundment fees may not be charged prior to the date of the hearing? Can a dog be seized under Section 49 in addition to being charged under your Bill? Would the dog owner who wishes to defend himself now face TWO actions – one by local gov’t and one by BC gov’t? Perhaps additional Bylaw fines will also apply. How does the average person defend himself against TWO court actions and all the fines and fees already in existence? Wouldn’t it be better to fund educational programs around responsible pet ownership in schools and also for adults? What about helping aboriginal communities whose dogs are running rampant without veterinarian care, spay and neuter programs, and who are a grave danger to those communities? How about a tax deduction for any dog owner that has completed a training program or achieved his CKC “Canine Good Citizen” certificate? In my view, educational solutions and funding could provide much more “positive incentives” to reach your goal as well as creating safety and harmony in communities.

  4. helen schiele-
    April 21, 2016 at 12:13 pm

    I don’t want anyone to be harmed by a dog, but your proposed bill will not reduce the number of recorded dog bites each year. Education is a far better route to reducing bites than the act you propose. Dog owners are very responsible people, as responsible as people in any other sector of society. As a former
    owner of a large dog, I was very careful to protect him from people who might unintentionally cause him to bite in self defence. On two separate occasions adults kneeled down, placed their faces in from of him to either hug or kiss him! I was terrified, but fortunately he resisted nipping these total strangers. He had grown up with children whose attention he loved, but adults are not children, even to a dog. Dog owners cannot prevent accidents from happening when it is caused by someone else’s ignorance. The photo of the scarred little boy is heartbreaking, but it also begs the question did his parents teach him to be respectful of dogs and other animals? Did they impress on him to let sleeping dogs lie? Just because we live with domesticated animals does not mean we know all there is to know about them. I have next door neighbours who have been polite and helpful at times, but I would not take their friendliness as a sign to enter their garden or home uninvited. That’s what strangers do when they become physically familiar with a dog that is not theirs. An act to promote education around animals would be far more effective than a threat of liability. Please promote education as the way to reduce dog bites and how to live together in peace. Thanks.

  5. Karen Stiewe-
    April 20, 2016 at 12:35 pm

    I have sent you my concerns and recommendations via separate email. I hope you will take the time to read it.