Earlier this week, thousands of Canadians gathered outside an Alberta abattoir, a Toronto restaurant, a Vancouver butcher shop and on street corners in a handful of other cities to demand that the Canadian horse-slaughter industry be stopped.
The protests followed on the heels of the outcry created last spring by a national television broadcast that showed images of the animals in the minutes before they were put to death at two Canadian slaughterhouses - videotaped sequences of horses being whipped, poked with electrical prods, and hung to bleed.
The protests also underscored larger concerns in Canada about the broader issue of animal rights.
"When the undercover investigations came out, we all thought that horse slaughter would be shut down in Canada because of the cruelty that happens," said Emily Lavander, the organizer of the protests, who also volunteers at a horse shelter near Alexandria in eastern Ontario.
"We're asking that Canadians write or call their MPs and demand that they support Bill C-544 to end the horse slaughter in Canada."
Bill C-544 is a private member's bill drafted by Alex Atamanenko, an NDP MP from the British Columbia Interior who is also his party's critic for agriculture and agri-food, as well as food security.
His bill does not call for an end to the slaughter. Rather, it aims to end the import of horses to be killed in Canadian abattoirs and to end the export of the meat to markets in Europe and Asia where there remains a strong demand.
The slaughter of horses has been banned in the United States since 2007, so about 50,000 of the animals are sent across the border to Canada to be killed here each year.
To animal rights activists, this is only one of many issues of concern.
Earlier today, we hosted a discussion with Gina Petrakos, legislative assistant to Mr. Atamanenko; race horse trainer Alex Brown; John Holland, president of the Equine Welfare Alliance; Dr. John Sorenson, a professor and writer on animal rights issues; Shelley Grainger, vice-president of the Canadian Horse Defense Coalition; and Kurt Vogel, a Ph.D candidate who studies management practices in the commercial livestock industry.
Ms. Petrakos, in her role as a legislative assistant, is responsible for providing Mr. Atamanenko with relevant research that will enable him to respond to issues that are brought forward in the House of Commons and at the standing committee on agriculture and agri-food (SCAAF).
Mr. Brown worked at Woodbine race track in the Toronto area during both the 2008 and 2009 meets. He is currently writing a book Greatness and Goodness: Barbaro and his Legacy, which will be published in April 2011. Part of the book details the issues regarding horse slaughter and why it should be banned. His argument is a food-safety argument: Is the horse a food animal or a non-food animal?
Mr. Holland is president of the Equine Welfare Alliance, an umbrella alliance of more than 100 member organizations and hundreds of individual members. The organization is dedicated to the protection of domestic and wild equines including the abolition of horse slaughter.
Dr. Sorenson is a professor in the department of sociology at Brock University. His latest books are Ape and About Canada - Animal Rights.
Ms. Grainger joined the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition (CHDC) in 2006, became Eastern Region Director in 2008, and is now Vice-President. Her work involves investigations, writing papers, conducting research, and networking with horse welfare advocates, organizations and rescues.
Mr. Vogel is a Ph.D. candidate under Dr. Temple Grandin at Colorado State University. His studies have focused on the impact of management practices on the welfare of livestock in commercial production systems.
You can use this link to follow the discussion on our mobile site.
The following is an edited transcript of the live discussion.
Jim Sheppard, Executive Editor, globeandmail.com: Welcome, panelists and readers, to our live discussion today on horse slaughter in Canada and the broader issues of animal rights that it raises. First of all, let me ask our panelists to give a brief outline of how they got involved in these issues and how they would like to see Canadian laws changed.
Shelley Grainger: Thank you, Jim. I'm a horse owner and knew vaguely that some horses go to slaughter. Back in 2006 I began my research and found the anti-slaughter group, the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition (CHDC), headed by Sinikka Crosland out of B.C. Knowing the agile and flighty nature of horses, everything that concerned me about how horses get slaughtered turned out to be a grim reality. Everything from feedlot conditions, to treatment at rural auctions, to crowded transport conditions _ including by double deckers not intended for horses _ and finally to horribly cruel treatment and unacceptable killing practices in the slaughterhouses. The goal of my work and the CHDC is to help expose these conditions, educate people about these realities and to help facilitate the passing of legislation to ban horse slaughter in Canada.