Written by: Heather Clemenceau
It’s no secret that anti-slaughter advocates are disappointed to hear that Bill C-322 does not have support in the House, nor did it have support at NDP caucus meetings. In addition, the new Safe Food for Canadians Act contains some wording that would not have been compatible with Bill C-322 moving forward.
The reality is that few Private Member Bills make their way up the ladder to become law. We are so fortunate that MP Alex Atamanenko chose this Bill to present to the House, but to have seen it fail would mean that we would have no hope that, in the foreseeable future, any MP would have picked up the cause. Alex Atamanenko is retiring in 2015, and at this time we have no other MP who has given us this much support to enact legislation to end horse slaughter.
Our many friends and allies who wrote to their MPs can attest to the fact that Conservatives (who hold the majority of seats in Parliament) did not stand in support of the Bill. So at the 11th hour, as we all know, Alex and his staff drafted a new Bill that was more likely to succeed in the House, yet it included concessions to the industry that no one wanted to see. The Bill does not allow anyone to “send or convey from one province to another, or import or export (a) a horse or other equine for slaughter for human consumption; or (b) horsemeat products – or meat products derived from any other equine – for human consumption.”
The biggest concession was that it allowed for the production of “meat” horses. From the Bill: “In addition to the other requirements of this Act and the Regulations made under this Act, no person shall send to a registered establishment a horse or other equine for slaughter for human consumption unless the horse or other equine was raised primarily for human consumption and unless they submit to the operator of the registered establishment a medical record for that horse or other equine that contains its standardized description and a complete lifetime record, in chronological order, of the medical treatments it has received.”
MP Alex Atamanenko states, “We do not have a system that has stringent regulations right now, and in the name of food safety, the bill fits in with the new Safe Food for Canadians Act. It is an expansion of Bill C-322. It conforms with trade regulations and it tightens up the whole aspect of food safety. I would urge all members of the House to support the bill, especially all of those hundreds of thousands of people who supported Bill C-322.”
With enactment of the new Bill C-571, horses would continue to cross the border but would NOT enter slaughter plants unless they have a vet-signed passport to accompany them. How many horses coming across the border would have such passports with them, if they’re coming for slaughter from the U.S.? Probably very few. There’s always the possibility of fraud, and that’s why the humane groups would continue to remain watchful in the field.
Privately, this development is hugely disappointing to so many of us, especially those who lobbied for support of Bill C-322 and collected so many signatures. But there are still reasons to support it publicly. Because the
effect of the Bill would have a negative effect on the economies of scale of the Canadian slaughter plants (by preventing privately owned pet and riding horses from entering the slaughter stream), it serves to act as a “wedge” that can be used to enact further restrictions on the horse slaughter industry. The “wedge” is a strategy most famously used as a manifesto by Discovery Institute, the hub of the intelligent design movement. You’re probably wondering what intelligent design has to do with horse slaughter, and the answer is “nothing.” But the wedge strategy as used by Bill C-571 is a political and social action plan meant to sway public policy makers and ultimately make slaughter for 90% of all horses totally unfeasible, essentially putting kill buyers out of action. So while privately we have great difficulty with the Bill, many of us can find a way to support it politically.
The Bill might be more palatable once we understand that not all animal protection initiatives launched by Canadian organizations have protected all species across the country either. Despite the work done by WSPA, Animal Alliance, Humane Society International, Mercy for Animals, and others, most results are made incrementally by lobbying. For example, some groups have achieved hunting or trapping bans in various municipalities but not others. Sometimes protecting animals in shelters has begun with a ban on the sale of lost pets for experimentation, but only in a select number of provinces. While protecting some animals, these actions don’t save all the pets, but it’s another example of a wedge that can be used to advance legislation in other provinces. How long have ethical people all over the world lobbied against the Canadian seal hunt? A recent campaign resulted in the European Union implementing a European-wide ban that began in 2010. And the boycott of Canadian seafood will continue until the Canadian government ends the commercial seal hunt. If you can shut down trade in bear galls by 50% by making concessions, is it better to do that than to make no concessions and achieve nothing? It takes a long time to get bans on spring bear hunts in Ontario, and they often aren’t permanent bans either – groups must continue to lobby for them. In many ways the new Bill C-571 can be viewed in the same manner.
Recently, the Canadian government announced a new program, seeded with $450,000, to “support animal welfare at slaughter.” Of course this is also an ethical dilemma for many people, especially since it appears that horse slaughterhouses may be able to qualify for funding to better “restrain animals at slaughter.” This program suggests that slaughterhouses already aren’t doing their jobs correctly or overseeing the slaughter process as well as they should. And improvement or not, perhaps this is an example of tossing money at a situation that cannot be made humane and should just be stopped outright Only the reader can judge as to whether “improving restraint for slaughter” is ethical. But it demonstrates that they are feeling the pressure.
It is easier (but not easy, as our American counterparts can attest) to keep an industry from restarting than it is to close an industry that has full government support. The Americans are somewhat fortunate in that there are at least a greater number of individuals and groups that can impact legislation more easily than can Canadians. Sadly, the Conservative Canadian government is a government that is beholden to big business, and one that makes every attempt to shape public policy to that end. It is a government that is more interested in keeping its corporate masters happy than in protecting animals or the food chain.