May 15, 2006

Court Report May 15 1:15pm

Court report courtesy of Steve Barker.

Here is my summary of the morning of May 15.

Legalities require me to tell you that I'm not a lawyer and this document contains only my interpretations of what was said in court and my opinions. Nothing in this document should ever be construed as advice.

The courtroom holds about 40 people. Packed. Wish it was bigger.

Clayton Ruby is great. Much drier in this environment than in front of the cameras. Much more of a quiet and respectful environment. Still manages to get in a dig at the government occasionally. Refers a lot to case law related to his three arguments. He uses cases that have nothing to do with dogs to illustrate the concepts.

He started by reviewing the pit bull definition, the restrictions and regulations, the penalties, and the Animals for Research Act.

Three arguments:

1. Overbreadth

The law is too overreaching in that it captures many dogs not of the proscribed breeds and many dogs that are not dangerous (the stated purpose of the law). He used this category to discuss whether or not pit bulls are more dangerous than other breeds.

Note that the U.S. courts are not allowed to use overbreadth to strike any law except if it violates freedom of speech. Not the same here in Canada. We can use the overbreadth argument much more liberally.

The main argument is that the constitution is not there to BALANCE government interest (public safety) against individuals' interests. The constitution is there to PROTECT the individual IN SPITE OF a legitimate government interest.

Nice quote: "These dogs are better than most, based on the evidence in Canada, which was not contested by the government".

He also listed the other alternatives that the government could have considered that were less restrictive on a specific group.

2. Vagueness

The law does not provide the ability for a person to know if they are obeying the law and it fails to protect citizens against arbitrary application of the law. A vague law is a law that fails to provide a boundary between permissible and impermissible behaviour.

Noted that the government selected a group of people (vets) to be the legal identifier of pit bulls when that same group (the OVMA) has testified that they can't do it.

Discussed the Sarnia case, where the judge specifically said that the law is vague.

Excellent evidence read from Lee Steeve's testimony that you cannot identify a breed by its appearance alone. Her response to hard cross-examination was great, specifically about how, in certain circumstances, poorly breed Labrador Retrievers could be substantially similar to poorly bred American Staffordshire Terriers.

Quoted Tom Skeldon (Ohio dog warden) from the Ohio case where he admits he can't identify a pit bull.

Discussed the significant differences between U.S. law and ours. A constitutional challenge in the U.S. based on overbreadth is basically not allowed and vagueness is very difficult. Ours allows more leeway and puts more onus on the government to prove their case.

Quoted Ohio decision where the judges were "troubled" by the lack of definition of the breed.

3. Trial Fairness

Listed his cross-examinations of police officers and animal control officers, as well as Darlene Wagner (postal worker, attack victim). Showed very well how difficult it is to pick the pit bull. Some admitted that they can't ID at all. Others picked some breeds correctly, but signficant numbers were wrong.

Broke for lunch and will return at 2:15pm.

Will post more when I get home or maybe will come back to this Internet cafe after close of day. Approx 5:00 or 6:00 Eastern - don't really know.

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