IN Canada, there is no outside temperature above or below which animals can or will not be trucked off to slaughter. Regardless of Manitoba’s extreme weather, nearly every day in this province, open-sided trucks without mechanical climate control haul animals to their death.
For pigs, that trip can legally run for 28 hours without food, water or rest. For cows, that maximum is 36 hours, and for newly hatched birds, 72 hours. Animal advocates have long deemed Canada’s animal transport regulations the worst in the western world — and it is due, in part, to this that activists across the country have zeroed in on transport trucks as a place of peaceful protest and evidence-gathering.
But that may soon come to an end in Manitoba, thanks to recently tabled Bill 62, the Animal Diseases Amendment Act, and Bill 57, the Protection of Critical Infrastructure Act, which many legal experts are calling ag-gag legislation. Ag-gag laws are harmful to animals, harmful to the rights of protesters, and harmful to the rights of journalists like me.
Animal agriculture is ubiquitously shrouded in secrecy. While knowing how the sausage is made may turn off many consumers, a growing number of Canadians have in recent years become interested in the origins and ethics of their food. Getting a true glimpse of how animals are treated on Canadian farms, however, is difficult.
In fact, outside of oft-deceptive industry marketing, it is only while they are on transport trucks, or through footage gained by activists willing to be there, that the public ever gets a chance to see these animals.
Danae Tonge is a co-organizer with Manitoba Animal Save and Winnipeg Chicken Save, groups that hold vigils outside of trucks and slaughterhouses to document the conditions of the animals, and occasionally offer water to animals in dire need. She says it is crucial that Animal Save groups — which exist all around the world — are able to be outside of these trucks in order to show the public how farmed animals are truly treated.
"The CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) isn’t going to put images out there of these animals being transported; the meat industry isn’t going to show what’s really going on," she says. "And if we can’t be there getting footage, showing what’s going on, interacting somewhat with these animals, then there is nobody who is."
In the past, Tonge says she has filed complaints with the CFIA about animals on trucks appearing to have frostbite or suffering from heat stroke, "then you never hear back from them, or they send you a stock email saying everything seems fine."
Having the ability to share, directly with the public and media, evidence of animals suffering in transport is necessary for transparency and accountability. Consumers deserve to know. I have written on the topic of farmed animal transport in Canada for numerous publications, thanks in great part to shocking evidence gathered by activists from Animal Save groups. But if Bill 62 and Bill 57 pass, this will all become much more difficult. Activists could face significant fines, or even jail time.
"Law professors and legal experts across Canada have already warned that making it an offence to ‘interact’ with farmed animals en route to slaughter restricts individuals’ constitutionally protected rights to protest on public property," says Kaitlyn Mitchell, a Winnipeg-based animal rights lawyer with Animal Justice. "Because they target critically important expressive rights, there is a strong likelihood that Bill 62 and Bill 57 will be subject to constitutional challenges if they pass as drafted."
In the U.S., several similar ag-gag laws have been struck down as unconstitutional. In Ontario, ag-gag legislation is currently being challenged in court in a suit spearheaded by Animal Justice, another Animal Save activist and myself.
As more consumers grow concerned about where their food comes from, and about animal welfare in general, now is not the time for the Manitoba government to be pushing animal agriculture further into the dark. And as we cope with a pandemic caused by the transmission of a zoonotic disease from animals to humans, we need to push for far more transparency from industries that house, breed, transport and kill animals — not allow for even less.
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.