It's the one-year anniversary of when the law in British Columbia changed for defending dogs accused of being “dangerous” under provincial law.
Before last year, if a city in British Columbia wanted to have a dog put down because of being aggressive, the court had the ability to order a dog be returned to his or her guardian (or to another person) on conditions, even though the dog technically fit the definition of “dangerous”. These were called conditional orders.
They were a way to ensure long term public safety by mandating certain conditions that promoted animal welfare, proper training, more secure housing environments for dogs, and ensured dog guardians became more responsible.
Last year on this day, the B.C. Court of Appeal (B.C.’s highest court) overturned the last 15 years of solid case law and ruled that conditional orders are not allowed. This means, that if a court now finds a dog meets the definition of “dangerous”, the dog can no longer be released on conditions. Instead, the court may not have a choice but to have the dog killed.
We are now in a new era for defending dogs accused of wrongdoing. Unlike what some people may believe, most of these dogs are good dogs—dogs who deserve another chance, especially because they and their guardians can learn to improve their behaviour. (After all, human behaviour is just as important as dog behaviour when it comes to responsible dog guardianship.)
In the last year, and thanks to some progressive prosecutors and the work of animal behaviourists and dog trainers (special shout out to Dr. Rebecca Ledger and Alice Fisher), we have been able to work together to safely and humanely release dogs to responsible dog owners with court approval. We have done several of these by way of proceeding under a different law and making probation orders.
One of my previous cases in the Supreme Court (which used to be key for arguing that conditional orders were allowed) remains seminal in the defence of dogs in British Columbia. This case is now key in providing guidance to the court on what factors to consider in determining whether the opinion of an animal control officer was reasonable, as was recently done in another case. The court needs to consider the likelihood of future events, the likelihood of seriously injuring another person, and the disposition of the dog, among other factors.
Please remember that not all dogs accused of being “aggressive” or “dangerous” deserve to die.
In fact, the vast majority deserve our compassion and a chance to live and thrive together with their guardians.