B.C. lags in dog liability



I am writing in response to the letter from Joan Fallis (“Vicious dogs spoil trail,” May 17).

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The state of the law in British Columbia as it applies to owners’ liability for the harm caused by their dogs is woefully inadequate. Under B.C. law, a dog owner can be held liable only on three bases: 1) scienter, which requires the plaintiff to prove that the owner owns the dog and knew of the dog’s tendency to attack and track record of doing so; 2) occupiers’ liability, which applies only on the dog owner’s property; and 3) common law negligence.

In 2016, MLA Andrew Weaver introduced a private member’s bill, the Animal Liability Act, which would have imposed strict liability on animal owners. Sadly, it did not make it through to becoming legislation.

There are many situations in which “normal dog behaviour” can lead to significant injury and cost to human beings and other animals. They are animals, after all, and so not 100 per cent predictable. Dogs that have not previously manifested injurious behaviour can suddenly turn and attack. Dogs that are simply playing can injure in their exuberance. What if the victim is a young child or elderly person? Under B.C. law as it currently stands, as long as the dog was engaging in “normal dog behaviour,” no liability can result, even if severe injury – with all the life-disrupting consequences that entails – was caused.

This is why Andrew Weaver and many others have argued for strict liability for dog owners. This is why many jurisdictions in Canada (Ontario leading the way on this one) and elsewhere have strict liability. In some jurisdictions dog owners are legally required to have liability insurance in place to cover just these kinds of incidents, as a prerequisite for having a licence to own a dog. Regrettably, B.C. has not caught up with these very necessary developments. Owning a dog is not a right; it is a privilege, just like owning and driving a car, for which the need for licensing, liability legislation and compulsory insurance has been recognized and put in place.

Diana L. Torrens, Garden Bay

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