Time for Liberals to deliver on horse-export promise

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IT’S been nearly two years since my last Free Press column on this topic, and yet this one starts very much the same: under the cover of night, on Dec. 5, when temperatures hit a low of -22 C (-32 C with the wind chill), yet another shipment of horses was loaded onto a Korean Air cargo flight at the Winnipeg James Richardson International Airport. They were headed for Japan, bound for slaughter.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/12/2021 (243 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

IT’S been nearly two years since my last Free Press column on this topic, and yet this one starts very much the same: under the cover of night, on Dec. 5, when temperatures hit a low of -22 C (-32 C with the wind chill), yet another shipment of horses was loaded onto a Korean Air cargo flight at the Winnipeg James Richardson International Airport. They were headed for Japan, bound for slaughter.

Over the last two years, there has been an immense uptick in efforts to end Canada’s multi-million-dollar live horse export business, resulting in a campaign promise from the Liberal Party to ban it outright. And yet, that plane still took off. Those horses, crammed into crates, still had to endure that grueling long-haul trip that can legally last up to 28 hours. And they still had to arrive to a fate of becoming sashimi for Japanese elite.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s delay in delivering on this promise is both disappointing and deadly.

In the last two years, advocates have worked hard to expose Canada as one of top producers of horse meat in the world, and a top exporter of live horses to other countries for meat. In Alberta, draft and draft-cross horses are specifically bred and farmed on massive feedlots, to supply meat to Quebec and countries in Europe, Asia and South America.

Unwanted racehorses, carriage horses and pets are also sold to meat buyers at auction. But the biggest and best of the bunch are the ones selected for those torturous flights, from Winnipeg, Calgary or Edmonton, via Alaska, to become a Japanese delicacy.

In 2018, the advocacy group Canadian Horse Defence Coalition (CHDC) took the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to federal court for violations of its own animal-welfare regulations. The group claims exported horses are routinely overcrowded, with too many to a crate and without adequate headroom.

The suit was not successful, however, and CHDC is launching an appeal in January.

But really, this case should by now be a moot point. Ahead of the last federal election, the Liberals included in their platform, under the “Protecting Animals” section, a promise to “Ban the live export of horses for slaughter.”

Upon reading those words, I remember calling a fellow animal advocate, singer Jann Arden, who has become a massive public voice for the cause, to break the news. We were both near tears. “It was a day of elation and celebration,” Arden recalls. “No longer were we trying to explain to the Liberal government what live horse export was; we were vindicated.”

It felt like a massive win — especially for CHDC, after a decade of working toward this — just to see the issue recognized. But now, advocates want more than recognition. We, and the horses, need action.

“I heard it over and over again from people, ‘I voted Liberal because of the horse export ban,’” says Arden. “And here we are months later, a shipment just went out of Winnipeg, they are planning another out of Calgary. The feedlots are still there, and there are still horses being purpose-bred (for meat) to be born in the spring.”

Arden calls the delay dishonest, unacceptable and unethical: “A promise is a promise.”

Winnipeg Humane Society CEO Jessica Miller says the group has recently called a meeting with Liberal MPs in an effort to help move things along. “Live exportation of animals overseas for slaughter, especially when animals such as horses have such instinctive fight-or-flight responses, is inhumane,” says Miller. “With every passing month, more and more horses continue to fall victim to this cruel industry, one that the majority of Canadians oppose.”

As such, the WHS is urging Canadians to continue contacting Liberal MPs “to ensure their promise of banning horse exportation is followed through with immediately.”

Kaitlyn Mitchell, a Winnipeg-based staff lawyer with Animal Justice, stood outside the Winnipeg airport ahead of that recent export, after activists with Manitoba Animal Save held a protest nearby that afternoon. Mitchell documented weather conditions and noted the animals waited more than five hours before taking off.

Animal Justice subsequently filed a complaint with the CFIA, claiming transporting horses in extreme weather contravenes animal welfare laws. The CFIA didn’t see it that way, and quickly dismissed the complaint, stating the shipment was completed with CFIA “inspection and compliance verification.”

“The Liberals made an important commitment to ban the live export of horses for slaughter,” says Mitchell. “Now is the time to act on that promise, to ensure Canada stops this abhorrent practice once and for all. Any delay in making good on this promise will doom even more horses.”

I hope Mr. Trudeau is listening. And I hope I’m not still writing about this in another two years.

Jessica Scott-Reid is a Winnipeg based writer and animal advocate. She is also the co-host of the Paw & Order Podcast, produced by Animal Justice.

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