Animal Justice seeking charge against Manitoba farm over alleged horse export

In a rare legal move, an animal rights group has taken matters into its own hands and is pursuing a charge against a Manitoba farm over its treatment of horses.

Animal Justice – a national animal advocacy group – is alleging the Swan River area farm violated Federal Health of Animals Act regulations during a flight to Japan in December 2022.

“We became aware of a planned shipment of horses, which would be leaving from Winnipeg to Japan, where the horses would be fattened, and then slaughtered in order to be eaten as raw sashimi,” Kaitlyn Mitchell, Animal Justice’s legal advocacy director, told CTV News.

Raw horse meat is considered a delicacy in Japan among other countries, and Canada is a leading exporter of live horses.

“And it became very clear quite early on that this shipment could not possibly meet the 28-hour legal limit for shipping horses without food, water, or rest,” Mitchell said.

The plane was supposed to stop in Anchorage, A.K., but heavy snowfall made that impossible.

Animal Justice says the flight was re-routed and delayed, and estimates the horses were on the plane for at least 32 hours.

According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), live horse exporters must have a contingency plan in place to respond to delays.

Animal Justice says the farm didn’t.

The group, along with other animal advocacy agencies, filed a complaint with the CFIA over unlawful conduct – related to exceeding the 28-hour time limit, and the lack of a contingency plan. However, the CFIA chose not to take action against the farm.

So, Animal Justice filed charges against the farm through a mechanism called private prosecution – in which a judge permits a private citizen to lay a charge for an alleged offence.

Chris Gamby, media director for the Criminal Defence Lawyers Association of Manitoba, says private prosecution is a rare step in the legal system – one that takes a lot of investigating and resources.

“[Private citizens or groups] will often do that after they’ve made a complaint to the relevant authorities,” Gamby explained. “And the relevant authority has decided not to take up the cause.”

Last week, a judge approved one charge under the federal Health of Animals Act against the farm for failing to have a contingency plan in place to respond to unforeseen delays that could result in the suffering of an animal.

Animal Justice has retained a lawyer to prosecute the case.

“We really can’t just stand by and let that happen,” Kaitlyn Mitchell said.

Mitchell says Animal Justice is seeking fines and hopes to send a clear message to companies that export live horses.

“In the future, you know, we’d like exporters to comply with our laws as meager as they may be,” Mitchell said. “And we’d like the CFIA to enforce the law on its own when it’s violated.”

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency tells CTV News it is unable to comment on the specifics of this case.

However, the agency notes when dealing with these types of matters, it “takes into consideration the harm caused by the non-compliance, the compliance history of the regulated party and whether there is intent to violate federal requirements.”

In an email, the farm’s owner says they did have a contingency plan filed with the CFIA. He said they take good care of their animals and call the charge a ‘political stunt’ for attention.

According to a summons, the owners are to appear in court for the first time on April 18. 

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