Last week, the Montreal City council passed a bylaw that will prevent the city’s residents from adopting any new pit bulls and introduce a set of rules governing existing pit bull owners. This decision has garnered much attention, mainly in the form of outrage and criticism: Montreal residents have set up petitions imploring the city council to reverse its decision, and various publications have presented facts and expert opinions that challenge the effectiveness of the ban.
Simply observing the messy aftermath of the decision would lead one to believe that the majority of the public is fundamentally opposed to the bylaw. However, it is uncharacteristic of Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre—who is notorious for his populist politics—to push a decision that would go against the general public’s opinion. According to an online poll conducted in June 2016 for La Presse, two-thirds of Quebecers were in favour of a ban on pit bulls. While the bylaw may seem justified in this context, its inception and development was marred by a signature characteristic of Coderre’s decision-making—impulsiveness. In essence, the bylaw is a rushed and limited band-aid solution that is meant to assuage the general public’s fear of dangerous dogs without adequately addressing the issue in the long run.
Leadership entails making difficult choices in a decisive manner, and Coderre has made great efforts in this area; however, leaders must remain critical and think about the long-term implications and practicality of their decisions. They should not make the mistake of bending to the fickle wishes of segments of the population they represent. The Coderre administration’s failure to meet this criteria is clear when it comes to the bylaw.
Critics and colleagues of Coderre are quick to point out the impulsiveness that pervades many of his administration’s political pursuits. In particular, there are glaring similarities between the story of the recent bylaw and Coderre’s proposal back in May for a one-year ban of horse carriages, which came in response to a carriage accident. Ultimately, the moratorium had to be cancelled due to a ruling by the Quebec Superior Court, which judged that the City did not have the authority to put carriage drivers out of work under such short notice. This mirrors what is happening today with the bylaw: The Quebec Superior Court Justice Louis Gouin has temporarily suspended the ban until he can make an official ruling on Oct. 5, citing the potential difficulty pit bull owners would have in complying with some of the restrictions in the bylaw.
Both initiatives were well-intentioned, and sought to ensure the safety of Montreal residents. Yet, both exhibited a lack of refinement and neglect towards the people that the laws would ultimately affect the most—carriage drivers and pit bull owners. Much like the carriage ban, hastiness was another definite factor in the creation of the recent bylaw: The controversy around ownership of dangerous dogs only came into discussion this June, after Christiane Vadnais, a citizen of Montreal, died after being mauled by a dog that was initially reported to be a pit bull—later revealed to be possibly of a different breed. It only took around four months for a concern to manifest itself into a law.
The mechanism of the bylaw also suggests that insufficient effort was made to ensure its effectiveness and feasibility. Even those who support the general sentiments behind the bylaw question the enforceability and validity of a system based on banning specific breeds of dogs—primarily because breeds are often difficult to identify. A government-appointed advisory panel, which made recommendations on how to curb the dilemma of dangerous dogs in Quebec, suggested a case-by-case approach, making no mention of a universal ban on pit bulls.
While the bylaw was developed with the safety of the general population in mind, the insufficient planning behind it has produced a policy which is an unproductive knee-jerk response at best. The municipal government often introduces reactionary, large scale changes in response to relatively insignificant issues, such as its decision to spend $950,000 on an anti-littering campaign in an effort to “unequivocally target bad behaviour.” Ultimately, the pit bull ban is a byproduct of this kind of impetuous overzealousness of the Coderre administration.