Lawbreakers get out of jail free

Dog bites man. Dog owner faces a prison sentence — and there might not be any defence. This is the way Whitehorse bylaws currently work.

Dog bites man. Dog owner faces a prison sentence — and there might not be any defence.

This is the way Whitehorse bylaws currently work.

And that contravenes Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Consequently, the animal-control bylaw is being rewritten.

In fact, all city bylaws that carry a jail penalty are being revised.

The problem with bylaw penalties was revealed after a vicious dog bit someone within the city recently.

The dog bite landed the pet’s owner in territorial court. The person faced charges under the animal-control bylaw.

Under it, the city can fine lawbreakers, or jail them for no more than six months.

But when the animal’s owner appealed the bylaw, the city’s lawyer reviewed the case and determined the penalty would not hold up in court, said bylaw manager John Taylor.

“There are sections in bylaws, like the animal control bylaw, where you can go to jail and there’s really no defense,” said Taylor.

The bylaw states that if a dog bites a person, it’s assumed the bite happened with the owner’s consent.

“There’s really no evidence you could call to dispute that,” said Taylor. “You could go to jail and there’s really nothing you could do about it.”

And that violates Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which deals with an individual’s autonomy and personal legal protection from government actions.

The change won’t affect the way bylaw does its job.

But the penalty section is standard to most bylaws, so instead of going through each one to determine whether the city could ask for jail time, it decided to make a blanket change and cut it out across the board.

“We knew we had a violation under the animal control bylaw, so instead of going through each bylaw to see if we had a violation, we decided to take a proactive approach and just remove it,” said Taylor.

“We’ve never sent anybody to jail anyway,” said Taylor noting that the issue has never come up before.

Bylaws like the newly-revised smoking bylaw, which outlaws smoking in public places like bars and restaurants, and the smoke alarm bylaw which requires smoke detectors be fitted in residences citywide will also see a change in their penalties’ sections.

The amendment passed first and second reading at Whitehorse city council’s meeting this week.

Taylor expects the amendment to take effect after council passes it through third reading at next week’s meeting. (LC)

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