Manitoba live horse exporter facing charge in rare private prosecution case

The owners of a farm in Manitoba’s Westman region have been charged under federal animal health laws in a rare prosecution case, over the treatment of horses being exported to Japan for slaughter.

Animal Justice, the Winnipeg Humane Society, the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition, and Manitoba Animal Save filed a complaint with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in December 2022 over the treatment of live horses that were being loaded into crates and then onto a plane in Winnipeg, destined for Japan.

The groups allege, the farm owners were planning to ship live horses to Japan, where they would be fattened, killed, and eaten as a delicacy.

They say the plane was set to stop in Anchorage, Alaska to refuel, and due to snowfall delays there and the decision to re-route the plane, the animals were left without food, water, or rest for over the legal limit of 28 hours.

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Kaitlyn Mitchell, the director of legal advocacy with Animal Save, said the Canadian Food Inspection Agency declined to take any enforcement action, which is why the groups went to private prosecution. Mitchell says it’s the first private prosecution case in Canada involving farmed animals.

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“It’s an incredibly cruel practice,” Mitchell told Global News. “We know the journey can be incredibly stressful, that they are at-risk of injury or illness, and we know some horses have died making this trip overseas. So our perspective is, we know this is a huge amount of suffering, it’s completely unnecessary.”

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Mitchell said they believed the farm had committed three offences, including animal welfare, violating legal limit of more than 28 hours without food, water, and rest, and failing to have a contingency plan in place.

In an emailed statement to Global News and CJOB, the farm disputed the allegations, and stated they did have a contingency plan in place. It also stated that the horses were knocked down due to a rough landing in Japan and were up after the landing and arrived at quarantine in Japan alive.

Mitchell says work underway to ban the practice of live horse exporting for slaughter. The federal agriculture committee met in Ottawa this week to review Bill C-355, an act introduced in 2021 to ban exporting horses by air for slaughter.

“Since that time, about 4,000 horses have been shipped out of the country,” Mitchell said. “So again, the reason we’ve taken this step with private prosecution is these practices are continuing, and we owe it to these horses to at least uphold the few laws that we do have.”

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According the the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition, more than 29,000 horses were exported from Canada to be slaughtered between 2014 and 2019.

“They put up to four draft horses, anywhere between two and four into these crates. They’re crammed into these crates, they’re put in the aircraft, and they’re flown to Japan for slaughter,” Sinikka Crosland, the president of the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition, said.

“We hope to see the industry end, we don’t think there’s humane way to transport these horses over there to their slaughter.”

It’s something Danae Tonge, the organizer of Manitoba Animal Save, also hopes to see.

“It’s very cruel, there’s no reason we should be shipping animals across the world,” Tonge said. “The flights are so heavy that they had to stop at Anchorage, Alaska to refuel before they head onto Japan. So this is terrible from an environmental standpoint, it’s terrible from an animal cruelty standpoint.”

Tonge says she’s relieved to see enforcement action taken on the recent case out of Winnipeg.

“I’m relieved that this farm will be held accountable for their negligence,” she said. “Those animals suffered, those horses suffered unnecessarily. It’s unacceptable and unlawful, and if the CFIA or other government agencies won’t hold them accountable, then I’m glad that Animal Justice and other organizations like that did.”


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