May 2011 – Bylaw Ban on Puppy Sales Upheld

The Supreme Court of BC has upheld a City of Richmond bylaw that bans the sale of dogs and puppies from pet stores.

In International Bio Research v. Richmond (City), 2011 BCSC 471, three pet stores challenged the validity of the bylaw on various grounds including that it was ultra vires, that it was unreasonable and discriminatory, and that it was passed in bad faith. The bylaw added “puppies and dogs” to a list of canidae that pet stores were prohibited from selling. The sale of dogs by dog breeders and commercial kennels was not affected by the bylaw.

The court noted that the proposed ban had been discussed extensively at several Committee of the Whole and Council meetings. The City had received a substantial number of delegations and written and oral submissions, both in support of and opposed to the ban. Based on the material before Council and the record of its meetings, the court accepted that Council had concluded the ban would reduce the number of unwanted and abandoned dogs in the City, and would improve the conditions of dogs sold as pets.

The court noted that the Community Charter was to be interpreted broadly in accordance with its purposes. The court concluded that the bylaw was authorized by section 8(3)(k) of the Community Charter (under which a council may by bylaw regulate, prohibit and impose requirements in relation to animals). The history of municipal control over animals in the province supported the conclusion that this was the intent of the Legislature (in particular, the former legislation specifically authorized a municipality to regulate the sale of animals).

The court also held that the bylaw was a valid exercise of the power to regulate in relation to business under section 8(6) of the Community Charter. The bylaw was not a prohibition on business, or a class of business. It was a valid regulation of the type of transactions a pet store could engage in.

The court rejected the petitioners’ argument that the bylaw had been adopted for an improper purpose – as noted above, the court found that Council’s underlying purpose was apparent from the record of its meetings. The court noted that the City funded the operation of animal shelters within its boundaries – in view of the costs to the City of  caring for unwanted dogs, reducing the number of unwanted and abandoned dogs was a valid municipal purpose.

The bylaw was found to be rationally connected to its objective. The decision to prohibit the sale of dogs related to a policy issue for which there was no right or wrong answer. Council’s decision fell within a range of acceptable outcomes and was not unreasonable. As the bylaw was adopted for a valid municipal purpose, it was not necessary to consider whether the municipality may have had other (bad faith) motives in adopting the bylaw.

Finally, the fact the bylaw differentiated between pet stores on the one hand, and hobby kennels and commercial breeders on the other, did not render the bylaw invalid. Council had the statutory authority to make distinctions between different classes of businesses (see Community Charter section 12). The evidence suggested that breeders and kennels had stricter criteria for the sale of their dogs, while with a pet store it was possible to buy a dog and take it home with little or no screening of the purchaser taking place. The measures that Council had put in place would require dog owners to put additional thought and preparation into their decision to purchase a dog, and those measures were rationally connected to Council’s object of reducing the number of unwanted and abandoned dogs in the City.

This decision is an interesting and thoughtful addition to the growing body of case law on municipal powers under the Community Charter. Clearly, there is a growing concern among many municipalities that the unregulated sale of pets (particularly dogs, cats and rabbits) is leading to undesirable consequences, and adds to the financial burden on municipalities, due to the unfortunate and far too common situation where irresponsible owners abandon their once-loved pet. This decision supports the conclusion that regulating the sale of these animals is a legally defensible response to those concerns. Whether such bylaws will prove to be effective in the long run remains to be seen.