New law targets irresponsible pet owners

Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver introduces legislation that would apply province-wide.

Recently-tabled provincial legislation targets irresponsible pet owners whose animals harm someone.

Recently-tabled provincial legislation targets irresponsible pet owners whose animals harm someone.

New legislation that would make pet owners more responsible for the aggressive actions of their pets was tabled last week by Andrew Weaver, Leader of the B.C. Green Party and MLA for Oak Bay–Gordon Head.

The Animal Liability Act, 2016, is modeled on legislation already in force in Manitoba. It would make owners directly liable for any damages caused by their pets. The Bill would not apply to damages caused by livestock.

Weaver notes that as the law in B.C. currently stands, when someone is bitten by a pet the options available for legal recourse hinge on the animal having a previous history of violence. “That’s simply not enough,” he says. “This legislation does not affect the vast majority of caring, responsible pet owners. It targets negligent pet owners who are not appropriately socializing, training, or restraining their animals in public places.”

Mat Wright, Weaver’s Press Secretary, says that at the moment the issue of people being attacked by aggressive pets is dealt with via a “hodge-podge” of laws and bylaws around the province, and that bylaw and dog enforcement officers and the police are often limited in what they can do. It’s also often not clear who the ultimate body is to go to.

The purpose of the legislation is to create “fair and open transparency around the subject. Let’s make it a level playing field so that there’s a clear-cut path for taking action against the pet and the owner.”

Wright notes that as things stand, being attacked by someone’s pet is a civil, rather than a criminal, matter, and whether or not the recipient can obtain compensation depends on a variety of factors. “You can sometimes get compensation through insurance, but it’s a muddy area.”

Weaver has received several e-mails about aggressive animals in his riding, and a gardener was recently attacked by a dog in Saanich, which prompted the MLA to move forward with the proposed legislation. He anticipates that the legislation would mostly be used in cases where an irresponsible owner fails to take appropriate precautions and their violent dog attacks someone. “We need clear liability legislation so that owners are required to ensure their pets behave safely, and are held to account if their pet does behave in a dangerous manner.”

“It’s an Opposition bill, and those rarely move forward,” acknowledges Wright. “But we hope that the proposed bill prompts the government to look seriously at this matter.

“Rather than have municipalities dealing with the matter individually, let’s have a provincial law that provides clarity.”