If you were a horse, you definitely would not want to be living on Canadian soil. With federally licensed abattoirs, or slaughterhouses, on the one hand and a lack of federal legislation to protect free-living horses on the other, it certainly doesn’t sound like home sweet home for the equidae. Unfortunately, the horses do not have the choice of which government they will live under.
Canada is home to 6 abattoirs, grossing a total of $60 million dollars a year. The demand for horse meat is steadily growing around the world and, with the U.S. slaughterhouses closing down due to public pressure, Canada’s market is opening wide. Last year’s top importers of Canadian horsemeat were France, Japan, Mexico and Switzerland. Very little of the meat actually remains in Canada; aside from a few restaurants in Quebec who openly display horse on their menus, most Canadian restaurateurs recognize that their North American patrons would likely be turned off by that menu item and so they keep only small amounts of undisclosed horse flesh on hand for those patrons who, by word-of-mouth, have sought them out.
So why such a stink about eating horses when countless chickens, cows, sheep and pigs die every day to satisfy human appetites? As with cats and dogs, horses fall among an elite group of animals who receive special status from many people and, therefore, are spared the knife and fork. Efforts to keep horses out of the slaughter houses obviously ought to be balanced by efforts to bring freedom to all other animals as well.
That said, the horses who go to slaughter are often part of a chain of further abuses. Canada is also a major producer in the Premarin industry (PREgnant MARes’ urINe or PMU), a hormonal therapy taken by many menopausal women. The ‘byproduct’ of this cruel industry is thousands of unwanted foals. Other horses arrive at the slaughter house doors as part of their retirement package, 2,500 to 5,000 former race horses being slaughtered annually. Horses from other areas of servitude such as carriage horses, show horses and farm laborers also meet similar fates when they are no longer useful to humans. A horse will fetch from $200 to $400 in the meat ring; a more financially-appealing alternative than the $3,000 a year it would cost to stable the horse. Of course, the idea of a horse never coming under the reigns of domestication in the first place would seem an odd concept to most ‘horse people’.
Those horses who are lucky enough to live freely in Canada, fall prey to a lack of protection from the hunter’s rifle. Despite requests for legislation, the Canadian government allows the killing of free-living horses and foals in Alberta and B.C. – some are killed for ‘wildlife’ management, some to be used as hunting bait, some to fill the plates of haute-cuisine restaurants and some just because someone felt like shooting.
There are small populations of free-living horses in Alberta, B.C., and Nova Scotia, but only those in Nova Scotia’s Sable Island Reserve receive federal protection. In Alberta there is a capture season that runs from Nov. 1 until March 1 each year. During this time a permit holder is allowed to catch three studs to one mare. However, there is no limit on the number of horses a person may capture or kill provided this ratio is adhered to. The free-living horses of British Columbia (living in the Nemaiah Valley area) also go unprotected except for a lone horse ranger who works for the non-profit agency Friends of the Nemaiah Valley and does his best to protect the lives of these horses.
Most of the British Columbia horses were rounded up and killed in the 1960’s and 70’s. Why? Some people argue that the horses take away the habitat and food sources of the deer, elk and moose. Yet very seldom do horses and moose eat the same food sources. Deer and elk are often seen feeding amongst the horses who, with their broad hooves, break the hard crusted snow to allow access to food that small-hoofed animals would not otherwise get in winter. Other people complain that the horses trample the natural grasslands – though humans do far worse damage to natural landscapes!
Canada attempts to offer protection for iconic animals such as the bear, moose, salmon and beaver; however, aside from one reserve in Nova Scotia, it presently does not offer protection to the free-living horses who are now a natural part of several Canadian ecosystems.
What special qualities allow a government to grant protection for one species and abattoirs for another? Well, it seems that citizenship is an important one. Some, including the government responsible for enacting protective legislation, say that because the horses are not truly indigenous to Canadian soil, it is better to let them be killed. Free-living horses disappeared from the North American continent somewhere between 2000 and 8000 years ago. They were re-introduced when colonizers from Europe came to North America in the early 1600’s and, since then, they have physiologically adapted and have existed freely for generations and generations. Regardless of where their ancestors came from, these horses are living as all animals should be living … free.
The combination of inadequate legislation and licensed abattoirs is a deadly one for Canada’s free-living horses. With the additional concern of disappearing grassland habitat, protection for these few remaining horses is crucial if we wish to prevent them from disappearing altogether.
What you can do
The U.S. has federal legislation protecting free-living horses. Nova Scotia has turned Sable Island into a federal-provincial reserve for the horses of the East Coast. The horses of Alberta and B.C. also need protection under a unified set of regulations. Because Environment Canada considers these animals to be ‘foreign’, not native, they do not qualify for the ‘Species at Risk Act’. Nonetheless, they are thinking, feeling, suffering animals who deserve to live their lives freely and require federal protection in order to do so.
If you are a Canadian, please sign the Friends of Animals online petition and ask your friends to do the same. http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/federal-legislation-to-protect-canadas-free-living-horses
Your signature will make a difference – we will be using the petition as further support when presenting the request to government officials. The more signatures, the louder the collective voice.
While a petition is a quick way to have your voice counted, sending letters to people in political power expressing your concern about the horses is an excellent way to affect legislative change. Send your comments (short or long) by e-mail, or write or fax the people below.
*Let the Prime Minister of Canada know the need for legislative protection*
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa K1A 0A2
*Please also express your concerns to the Alberta tourism board: *
Deputy Minister - Tourism, Parks, Recreation and Culture
7th fl Standard Life Centre
10405 Jasper Avenue
Edmonton, AB T5J 4R7
Managing Director, Travel Alberta
Thank you for your involvement in helping these horses!