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Dog bite bill’s teeth too sharp – Dabdoub

Published:Thursday | October 29, 2020 | 12:12 AMEdmond Campbell/Senior Staff Reporter
Jalil Dabdoub
Jalil Dabdoub
Some parliamentarians have argued that pending legislation might go too far in criminalising dog owners.
Some parliamentarians have argued that pending legislation might go too far in criminalising dog owners.

While making it clear that dog owners must be held accountable if their animals injure people or cause damage to property, Jalil Dabdoub, president of the German Shepherd Club, is urging the Government to make adjustments to the Dogs (Liability for Attacks) Bill now before Parliament.

Dabdoub, who is also an executive member of the Jamaica Kennel Club, said he had no difficulty with the imposition of criminal liability but has reservations about the scope of the legislation’s teeth.

“It cannot be imposed in a manner in which the definition of the nexus of the crime is an attack. The word ‘attack’ is too broad,” said Dabdoub.

Further, he said that the bill also needs to have mitigating factors for civil and criminal liability, noting that one of the most obvious ones is provocation.

The legislation says that ‘attack’ includes “any circumstance which does not result in injury, but which creates a reasonable apprehension of injury”.

During debate on the bill in Parliament on Tuesday, the Government proposed an amendment to the definition of attack.

The words “creates a reasonable apprehension of injury” would be scrapped and substituted with “could reasonably be expected to result in injury had the person attacked or a third party (not being the owner of the dog) not acted to prevent the injury”.

Mark Golding, member of parliament for St Andrew South, also raised concern about the definition of attack during debate on the bill on Tuesday.

Clause Six of the bill makes it a criminal offence on the part of an owner if a dog attacks an individual outside of the home or place where the dog is kept.

“The effect of Clause Six, in tandem with the definition of an attack, is that an owner of a dog can face criminal liability, including imprisonment, if the dog frightens somebody but doesn’t actually injure them,” Golding asserted

Dabdoub took issue with the imposition of fines of up to $3 million for breaches of the law, calling the penalty “outrageous”.

He said that in most jurisdictions, the authorities institute a system of three strikes and you are out.

“Some of them will say if there is evidence that you had knowledge that the dog is dangerous or that you trained him to behave like this, then they impose criminal liability,” he added.

According to Dabdoub, in the current bill before Parliament, criminal liability is wantonly imposed.

Julie-Ann Small, president of the Jamaica Veterinary Medical Association, said the biggest concern for her organisation was whether the regulations had been developed to accompany the proposed law.

“We are very concerned about where animals are going to be kept if they are seized and what conditions they are going to be kept in,” she said.

Small noted that the country did not have an established pound system, pointing out that dogs that are seized would not have adequate facilities to be placed while the case is before the courts.

The JSPCA, she said, was already overwhelmed with stray animals.

When he closed the debate on the bill on Tuesday, Justice Minister Delroy Chuck said he would not refer the bill to the committee stage for clause-by-clause examination before passage in light of various concerns raised by lawmakers.

However, he said that the bill was not meant to create criminals. “It is intended to engender, encourage, and enforce responsibility in the ownership of dogs.”