If you have been following singer/actor/author Jann Arden on social media, you’ve probably seen a picture of her wearing a #HORSESHIT T-shirt.
That sartorial statement could, of course, apply to any number of things — especially during these COVID times. But, in this case, Arden is part of the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition (CHDC)#HORSESHIT campaign that aims to raise awareness and get the government to say “whoa” to the practice of exporting live horses from Canada to be slaughtered for human consumption.
Whether you agree with the consumption of animals or not, people around the globe eat them. Horse meat is consumed in Quebec, Europe and Asia. Canada is one of the world’s top 10 producers of frozen horse meat.
In the last six years, over 100,000 horses were slaughtered here.
According to the CHDC, in 2020 1,606 horses were live-shipped to Japan for slaughter, down from 2,800 in 2019. This translates to about $11 million in revenue in 2020 and $17 million in 2019.
The issue at hand is the animal welfare concerns of the horses during the transport overseas.
The CHDC have documented practices out of Calgary International Airport that include cramming three or four draft horses into crates that have coverings impeding the horses’ ability to lift their heads up fully. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency rules allow the horses to go 28 hours standing (there is no room to lie down in the crates) without food or water. Activists say often it surpasses that hour mark.
Being flight animals, horses experience a lot more stress than other livestock.
“They are treating the horses in the same model that they do cattle, and they are not the same. You are dealing with very different personalities, very different intelligence,” said Arden, pointing out cattle don’t spend their whole lives in feedlots like these horses do.
Arden, who just wrapped season three of the CTV sitcom Jann, has been an important voice in this battle.
The multiple Juno-winning singer/songwriter’s constant social media posts have turned a spotlight on the issue, helping to drive almost 33,000 Canadians to sign an official petition to the House of Commons asking for the end of the transport of live horses for slaughter.
The petition is open until June 18.
“We’ve known about it and worked on it since about 2012. We got lawyers involved, etc., but it has only been since about last fall when Jann Arden got involved that it has really mushroomed,” said Salmon Arm’s Sinikka Crosland, the executive director and president of CHDC. “There are so many more people getting a hold of us, so many more people aware. The celebrity power that she has helps a lot.”
Arden, who has been involved with horse causes — notably the slaughter of wild horses in Alberta — had the issue brought to her attention by her veterinarian, Dr. Judith Samson-French of the Banded Peak Pet Hospital near Calgary.
“When she told me, I’m like: ‘They’re what?!’ ” Arden said of learning that flights full of large draft horses were being flown out of Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg. “She (Samson-French) said they are big, 17 hands high (173 cm or just over 5-foot-6 at the wither) draft horses that they cram into crates and send them to Japan for raw sashimi meat.”
Arden said on many occasions she has gone to the Calgary airport to see the operation in action and to protest.
“The horses are so frightened. Going to see the loads at the Calgary airport will haunt me for the rest of my life. The sounds they make, it just seems like such a betrayal,” said Arden, who has been around horses her whole life. “They have no lives and it’s not making anybody money, but these four or five guys and they are making between $20-25 million a year. And they do not care.”
Postmedia reached out to the largest Alberta slaughterhouse, BEC Exports in Fort MacLeod, for comment about their involvement in the shipment of live horses to Japan, but the company did not respond.
Each year, about 7,000 horses that are bred for this purpose are sent to Asia. The horses earn the Canadian owners on average $5,000 per horse.
The horses, when shipped, are inspected by vets from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
The agency responded to a request to talk about the issue with a statement that read in part: “The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is aware that some Canadians object to the export of horses to Japan because they do not consider horses to be food animals. The air transport of any horse (show horse, companion animal or livestock) must be completed in a safe and humane manner, in compliance with federal regulations.
“CFIA veterinary inspectors are present at the airport for each shipment of horses to Japan to certify the export as required by the Health of Animals Act and its regulations. CFIA inspectors are on-site as crates are loaded onto the plane and verify that the horses are fit and will be transported humanely.”
In 2019, the federal court dismissed the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition’s application for a judicial review against the agency’s practices. An appeal has been made and parties are currently awaiting a court date.
Representing the coalition is Vancouver animal rights lawyer Rebeka Breder.
“We lost at the federal court because the judge found that the CFIA has discretion how and when to enforce their laws,” said Breder. “What we’re saying is that, with all due respect, the judge misapprehended the lawsuit because we are not actually telling the CFIA how to segregate. We’re not telling them how to provide enough headspace.
“We’re just telling them to do it.”
Then, there was a twist to the story. In 2020, the regulations were amended and now horses over 14 hands high could be shipped together in a crate if they were deemed compatible animals and it was OK if their heads touched the netting if they were agitated.
“There is another provision that says international norms must be followed when animals travel by air,” said Breder.
Breder believes that facts show they are not meeting those standards and hopes to prove that.
The hope is the petition will find support in Parliament when Beaches-East York Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith tables it a few days after the petition closes. The government then has 45 days to respond.
Erskine-Smith said having Arden in on this fight has made a big difference in getting the word out.
“When she stands up and she calls for action, she has a platform that others just simply don’t. For her to use her platform makes an incredible difference,” said Erskine-Smith.
When asked about taking the temperature on this issue with his fellow politicians, Erskine-Smith said he has had support from individuals in all parties but is not expecting a slam-dunk. Interestingly, a 2019 Nanos poll found 69 per cent of Canadians polled are opposed to the slaughter of horses for human consumption.
“I don’t know, if we were to see a vote in the House of Commons, it would be unanimous. I think there may well be some folks in some parties that may not be supportive. But I personally see animal welfare issues in a non-partisan way,” said Erskine-Smith. “I think there are Conservative voters, NDP voters, there are of course Liberal voters who care about improving our animal welfare laws. And yes, I have had colleagues from every party who want to see action to protect horses.”
A big point worth making is this is not a large industry that employs hundreds. The economic impact is to a very few.
“To allow a very small number of people to exploit this opportunity for economic gain at the expense of great suffering, I think, is a big tragedy,” added Erskine-Smith. “The minister of agriculture really needs to listen to Canadians.
“There are complicated animal welfare issues in this country. This is not one of them.”
To learn more or to sign the petition, visit horseshit.ca
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