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Barbara Kay
Barbara Kay is a founding governor of the Prince Arthur Herald. She has been a columnist for the National Post newspaper since 2003, and is a frequent commentator on television and radio, as well as a public speaker. Her novel A Three Day Event was published in 2015. She lives in Montreal.

BARBARA KAY: Woman loses half her face in assault; judge rules it’s her fault

The name Marie-Héléne Tokar, resident of the small Laurentian town of St. Hippolyte, Quebec probably means nothing to you. But to those of us who follow stories of pit bull atrocities, the name fairly leaps from the page.

On September 27, 2008 Mme Tokar was the victim of a completely unprovoked attack by the pit bull of her neighbour, Marie-Claude Poliquin. The dog mauled her face so badly – ripped off her nose and upper lip – that Tokar spent 8 months in hospital for reconstructive surgery. She has so far undergone 17 operations to repair the damage and must look forward to several more in future.

I have seen photographs of Tokar’s “repaired” face, and I would not dream of including it here out of compassion for her, but as well out of respect for the reader’s sensibilities. To give you an idea of what that dog did to her, in spite of all that plastic surgery can accomplish, Tokar’s face is so grotesque that she has been asked not to attend parties in her small town because she frightens children and discomforts her neighbours. “People look at me as if I were a monster,” Tokar says.

Now comes news of a further nightmare for Tokar. In 2011 she sued Poliquin for $1.15 million. But, the Superior court judge having concluded that the neighbour’s defence of the dog was more credible than the victim’s account, she is not going to receive a penny in compensation for the damage done to her.

The court judged that since Tokar was very familiar with dogs – she was at the time of the attack returning a puppy she had been looking after to her neighbour – she should have known better than to have approached a dog she allegedly knew to be dangerous. She had therefore shown “temerity” and “imprudence.”

This is surely one of the most disgraceful judgements in the annals of dog attacks, devoid both of humanity and reason. 

Devoid of humanity, because Poliquin’s insurance company would not pay for the costly and painful surgeries (that tells you something about pit bulls right there, as well as the owner’s irresponsibility, knowing she was not covered), and because Tokar is $60,000 in debt, has sold off assets, may lose her home and is depressed. And devoid of reason because at the time of the attack, it was illegal to own a pit bull in St. Hippolyte. That fact alone should have weighed heavily in the decision. And if the dog was known to be dangerous, the owner should have had it euthanized, rather than depending on other people’s “prudence” in preventing attacks. No matter how you look at it, the owner was irresponsible and Tokar was an innocent victim of a hideous, traumatizing, life-altering and entirely preventable assault.

Needless to say, the pit bull advocacy movement has rallied the troops to defend the dog rather than hang their heads in shame at championing such a high-risk breed. In the comments following the story on the Journal de Montréal site, for example, amongst an encouraging barrage of indignant readers who “get it” about pit bulls, out popped the usual disclaimers, such as “Stop dumping on pit bull owners. [Pit bulls] are no worse than other breeds…the problem isn’t the dogs, but humans who don’t know how to train them”; “pit bulls don’t have aggressivity in their genes [and] to say that pit bulls are dangerous is to say that all Muslims are terrorists or all Italians are mafiosos…”; “Many other breeds bite more often than pit bulls.”

Here you have the three pillars of straw on which the pit bull advocacy movement rests. Frequency of bites in dogs is a red herring in this context. In terms of maulings, maimings, dismemberments, and fatalities, pit bulls are not only “worse” than other breeds, they leave all other breeds combined in the dust. Pit bulls and other fighting breeds are indeed genetically different, are indeed genetically programmed for impulsive aggression, and insurance company rates – or refusals of coverage – testify to that now proven fact. And the absurd canard that line-bred dogs – the epitome of eugenics stereotyping – are comparable to randomly bred people, or that epithets such as “racism” and “discrimination” may be applied to dog breeds with a straight face – is the height of irrationality.

Tokar is $60,000 in debt and cannot afford to appeal her case. She has been mauled twice: first by an animal obeying its instincts; then by a judge ignoring his ability to think.

bkay@videotron.ca