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Canada Report reveals inconsistencies in highway inspections of animal transport vehicles

In this 2010 file photo, pigs in a trailer arrive in downtown Toronto.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency conducted hundreds of highway inspections in 2016 and 2017 of vehicles transporting animals in half the country’s provinces – but none in the others, including Ontario and Quebec.

Among other responsibilities, the CFIA sets regulations for the humane treatment of animals in transport and is responsible for the enforcement of those laws, ensuring vehicles are not overcrowded and that animals are given adequate food, water and rest. But the agency’s records from the past two years reveal glaring inconsistencies from province to province, raising questions about the agency’s enforcement of its own rules.

Between 2016 and 2017, dozens of highway inspections, or blitzes, were conducted in British Columbia, Alberta and Prince Edward Island, according to records obtained through access-to-information requests by the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals and reviewed by The Globe and Mail. A handful of blitzes were conducted in New Brunswick. Saskatchewan, meanwhile, reported 176 inspections – though those results appear to be inflated with the inclusion of other types of inspections, including at auction houses and border entries.

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But in Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador, there were no highway inspections reported at all.

“Why are some provinces doing them and some not?” asked Maureen Harper, a veterinarian who retired in 2011 after serving as the CFIA’s official overseeing animal transport in Ontario. “Either you have a policy where this is supposed to be happening or you don’t. If you do, then why are the others not doing it? And if you don’t, how do you justify expending resources where provinces are?”

Across Canada, CFIA inspectors conduct routine inspections of trucks at loading facilities and at slaughterhouses. Dr. Harper says inspections solely at the beginning and end of the journey are not sufficient, considering the animals are often in transit for several days.

“Animals can go down and be hurt … things can happen from the point of embarkation to destination. There could be infractions and it could be a matter of life and death," she said.

Under current regulations, for example, day-old chicks can be transported without food, rest or water for up to three days. (Canada allows transport times of between 18 and 72 hours, longer than in the United States or Europe – though new regulations are expected in the coming months.)

In an interview, a CFIA spokesperson said its enforcement measures are sufficient, even in those five provinces that did not conduct highway blitzes.

“We do a bunch of other things, including inspecting at stockyards and inspections at auction marts,” said Andrea Mortiz, the agency’s director of media relations. “At slaughterhouses, when animals arrive and are unloaded, we are at all of those places on a regular basis.”

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She did not provide an explanation for the inconsistencies from province to province, except to say the CFIA has found that highway inspections are not always practical or effective. Inspectors have to rely on police to make roadside stops, which requires co-ordination with local officials. And highway checks, she said, rarely result in findings of non-compliance.

She added that, in the past, drivers leaving the stops would radio other drivers to tell them to avoid those routes.

“The highway blitzes are just one tool in the toolkit – and they’re probably the least effective,” she said.

When asked specifically about whether the CFIA has a policy for highway inspections, another spokesperson e-mailed a statement saying they are “conducted pending the availability of law enforcement partners and appropriate weather conditions.”

Still, where blitzes did occur, the inspection reports found a variety of issues. In several instances, there was insufficient or wet bedding inside the trucks, making the floors slippery for the animals. A few inspectors found animals had fallen down. In one instance, an inspector noted that the hogs "had old bruse [sp] like makes [sp] from the possibility of being hit with a stick, days prior to being loaded.”

In many other instances, inspectors commented that the stops were useful education tools. “The driver was co-operative and was supportive of our inspections and says we need to be doing more of them,” wrote one PEI inspector. “He commented on the fact that he sees a lot of inhumane transportation of animals.”

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In the cases where inspectors found infractions, they all gave the drivers a chance to address the issues before eventually marking the reports as “compliant.”

Stephanie Brown, the director of the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals, says the blitzes should not be viewed solely as a means of catching infractions but also as a deterrence, comparing them with roadside stops for impaired drivers.

“If people understand they’re going to be stopped, they’ll obey the law more,” she said.

“The government has taken on this responsibility, and implied [checks] are being done,” she said. “Society has an expectation that things are being done properly.”

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