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In what circumstances can a municipality issue an order to euthanize a dangerous dog?

Dec. 2019
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On November 1, 2019, the Honourable Frédéric Bachand handed down a ruling in Trahan vs. Ville de Montréal (2019 QCCS 4607) on the provisions of the city of Montréal's animal control by-law as they pertain to dog euthanasia. A number of the provisions are also found in other municipal by-laws.

In this particular case, a German shepherd husky mix owned by Ms. Trahan fatally bit a miniature schnauzer owned by Ms. Trahan's neighbour. In the days following the incident, a city employee scheduled a meeting with Ms. Trahan at her home to obtain her account of the incident and take photos. Ms. Trahan was then informed that she would receive a statement of offence and an order to euthanize the dog. Ms. Trahan received the order, which compelled her to act within 48 hours, and then filed an appeal to contest its legality, alleging that the city had failed to respect the principle of procedural fairness.

Article 30 of the By-law Concerning Animal Control states the following:

30. The guardian of a dog that has bitten or caused the death of a person or another animal of a permitted species under article 3 must:

1. inform the authority having jurisdiction within 72 hours of the event;
2. have the animal euthanized following the order for euthanasia issued by the authority having jurisdiction;
3. muzzle the dog at all times when it is outside of the guardian's occupancy unit until the animal is euthanized.

Article 2 is a follows:

2. The authority having jurisdiction exercises the powers granted under this by-law and, in particular, may have or give orders to have euthanized any animal that is dangerous, at-risk, prohibited, stray, dying, gravely injured or highly contagious;

Under the by-law, a "dangerous dog" is one that has "caused the death of a person or of an animal of a permitted species under article 3" or "an at-risk dog having been declared dangerous by the authority having jurisdiction".

The question posed to the Court was whether the city had to consider Ms. Trahan's point of view before issuing the order. The city was of the opinion that the parties responsible for applying the by-law have the power to order a dog that caused a fatal bite to be euthanized, regardless of the circumstances or Ms. Trahan's arguments.

The Court disagreed. It affirmed that the power is difficult to reconcile with the powers set out in article 2 of the by-law, according to which an authority having jurisdiction may issue an order to euthanize an animal but is not required to do so. In addition, the article does not differentiate between a dog that caused death and one that is at risk of doing so. With regard to article 30, the obligation is the guardian's and not the designated municipal officer's.

The Court concluded that Ms. Trahan's interpretation must prevail to achieve the best balance between public security and the animal's welfare. Because the city could choose to issue the order or not, it had to seek Ms. Trahan's views and consider them in its arguments before issuing the order?actions the city failed to take in this particular case. The Court therefore quashed the order and required that the city record Ms. Trahan's point of view and account for it in its decision.

The Court also added that the fact that the by-law does not provide for any contradictory process or assessment does not make the provisions invalid. As a result, for the municipal officer, the way in which a by law is worded directly impacts the discretionary nature of a decision. If the city council aims to compel the officer to make a specific decision under specific circumstances, it must make this clear in the by-law.

To avoid any ambiguity, a municipal officer should meet with a dangerous dog's owner, record his or her views and account for them when deciding whether to issue an order to euthanize an animal. It is important to note that the period to appeal was not expired at the time of writing.