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Canada Concerns about animal welfare prompt move to ban horse-drawn carriages in Montreal

A caleche rides in front of the Notre Dame Basilica Tuesday, September 5, 2017 in Montreal.

The Canadian Press

Montreal is moving to ban horse-drawn carriages from its streets as an old-world tourist attraction yields to modern-day concerns about animal welfare.

The city has adopted a draft bylaw that will eliminate the city’s emblematic calèches starting in 2020, citing reports of animal cruelty that include long work hours, exposure to traffic and extreme temperatures.

“Montreal is saying it’s time to move past the calèche industry,” Craig Sauvé, the city councillor responsible for animal issues, said in an interview on Thursday. “When I see [the calèche horses] after a long time and they’re struggling and they don’t look particularly happy, I feel sorry for them. I say, ‘Is this where we are as a society?’”

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The bylaw, which was approved by the executive committee and will be submitted to city council this month, is part of a set of reforms to animal controls brought forward by the administration of Mayor Valérie Plante.

Another bylaw adopts breed-neutral measures to control dog bites and dangerous dogs, a shift away from the pitbull ban brought in under former Mayor Denis Coderre, who acted after a 55-year-old Montreal woman was fatally mauled in her backyard by a neighbour’s dog.

The Quebec government also backtracked this month from its promise to enact a province-wide ban on pitbulls, citing an absence of scientific consensus on the question.

The moves are a sign that animal control remains a contentious issue for legislators.

Horse-drawn carriages have been a staple of Montreal’s tourist trade for generations, even as the practice comes under growing scrutiny. The rhythmic clip-clop of horse hooves has rung through the streets of Old Montreal for decades and picturesque calèches have been a backdrop in countless postcards and selfies through the years.

But in presenting its new bylaw on Thursday, the city depicted the practice as anachronistic. It said horses were involved in four accidents since 2014 and hundreds of complaints, while 14 tickets were handed out in the past two summers for violations related to horses’ welfare or the condition of the carriages.

Mr. Sauvé raised the idea of replacing them with electric-powered calèches, but did not provide specifics.

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Mr. Coderre had also tried to end the calèche industry in 2016, only to be forced to retreat after the drivers went to court and obtained an injunction.

Supporters of calèches cite Montreal’s deep history with horses – 14 horses arrived in the city on a boat from France in 1665 – while calèche owners insist their animals are treated well and subject to regular veterinarian inspections. They raised the spectre of the animals ending up at the slaughterhouse if the city moved to ban them.

Mr. Sauvé said 22 calèche permits are still in use. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) says the phase-out period – the ban begins on Dec. 31, 2019 – will allow the city to work with horse sanctuaries to find a place where the animals “will be able to live out a peaceful retirement.”

“By putting an end to this antiquated and inhumane industry, Montreal will be following the lead of several other world-class cities, such as London, Paris, Beijing and Toronto,” the Montreal SPCA said in a statement. The director of animal advocacy, Alanna Devine, said her group has been fighting against the use of horses in central Montreal for nearly 150 years.

Despite opposition, the calèche industry continues. Victoria and Quebec City still have horse-drawn carriages, although they both face regular criticism. The BC SPCA this month called for a ban on the carriages on Victoria streets after a video showed two horses falling.

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