Jessica Scott-Reid is a Montreal-based freelance writer and animal advocate.
Stories of animal abuse and exploitation in Quebec continue to make headlines nationwide. The latest: a boxer found buried alive last month in Saint-Paul-d'Abbotsford. The dog has died and a man has turned himself in to police. Two other dogs in a nearby region were kidnapped, tortured and killed just months earlier, so the question continues to be asked: How does this happen?
But perhaps the question that needs answering is: How can a culture evolve in such a way that animals are positioned so far below humans that these cases of cruelty can continue on such a regular basis? In the matter of Quebec, the answer lies in big part with leadership.
It's difficult to look at the case of the boxer and not consider the effects of Montreal's recent move to ban pit-bull-type dogs and other breeds haphazardly deemed dangerous. This type of panic-driven policy tells a society that it's right to fear and discriminate against animals, and that dogs are better exiled and destroyed than properly trained and rehabilitated. If you tell your people that man's best friend is actually his potential enemy, cases of cruelty are only to be expected. But Montreal's breed-specific legislation (which is set to be adopted province-wide) is just the tip of Quebec's iceberg.
Concern for the province's carriage horses was renewed last month after two incidents in Quebec City: One horse was so dehydrated she fell and lay in traffic for two hours, and another got spooked off the road, all in one afternoon. This comes only a year after a similar high-profile occurrence in Montreal, when a calèche horse was hit by a vehicle. The summer before, a horse slipped and fell in a construction zone. These incidents led to major petitions and protests last spring, but resulted in only a slapdash and short-lived ban.
Now, Montreal is preparing to host a so-called urban rodeo at the city's 375th-birthday celebration in August. Even after opposition from hundreds of veterinarians and vet technicians, plus thousands of petition signatories, as well as the Montreal SPCA, all asserting the event would cause fear and stress and risk injury and even death to the animals, Mayor Denis Coderre has said the show will go on. Since then, a horse at a rodeo in Saint-Tite, Que., was euthanized last week after suffering spinal injuries.
As long as city and provincial leaders continue to allow the exploitation of horses, showcasing them as mere means of entertainment and revenue, and so casually placing them at risk of harm, the culture of cruelty toward animals will continue to thrive in Quebec. The Facebook page for the NomadFest Urban Rodeo currently has more than 3,000 followers.
And playing out behind the scenes of these and other headline-worthy cases is Quebec's old-news problem with pet overpopulation, highlighted particularly at this time of year leading up to the province's July 1 Moving Day. Dumping Season, as it is also known, sees animal shelters and rescues overloaded with surrendered and abandoned pets, as people move away and discard them like useless old furniture. In a province where puppy mills are permitted to prosper, and it remains perfectly legal to sell pets in stores, it comes as little surprise that animals can so easily be treated as objects to be thrown away and replaced. Thus the province's problem with pet overpopulation, and the subsequent euthanization of hundreds of thousands of perfectly adoptable animals, continues year after year.
Quebec has a longstanding reputation for being one of the worst regions in Canada in terms of animal welfare. The U.S. Animal Legal Defense Fund has ranked Quebec the "best province to be an animal abuser" four out of the last five years. Even with the much-celebrated 2015 passing of Bill 54, "to explicitly recognize animals as sentient beings," Alanna Devine, director of animal advocacy of the Montreal SPCA says, "It's really still business as usual in the province." In fact, it is actually in spite of this legislation, which seems to have a major enforcement problem, that the province remains a haven for fur farms, animal-testing labs, backyard breeders etc.
As the famous Ringling Bros. Circus comes to an end, and the Vancouver Aquarium now banned from bringing in new whales and dolphins, and many Maritime cities calling off pig-wrestling events, it appears Quebec is very much behind in the race toward modernized thinking about animal welfare.
In fact, the province seems to be moving backward, as government leaders continue to permit, project and even promote the message that animals are unworthy of rights, respect and protection, breeding a culture ripe for animal cruelty and exploitation. And it's showing now more than ever.