British Columbia

CFIA wins court challenge over transport of horses to Japan for human consumption

A federal court judge has rejected a challenge from a group which claims the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is failing to follow rules governing the overseas shipment of horses for slaughter and human consumption.

Federal court judge finds inspection agency under no 'public legal duty' to enforce regulations

The CFIA was challenged in federal court over its inspection of live horses shipped to Asia for human consumption. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

A federal court judge has rejected a challenge from a group which claims the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is failing to follow rules governing the overseas shipment of horses for slaughter and human consumption.

The Canadian Horse Defence Coalition took the CFIA to court over what it claimed were fairly straightforward requirements for horses to be segregated and given ample head room during long-haul overseas flights to Japan.

But after a two-day hearing, Judge Keith Boswell sided with the agency — effectively finding that the CFIA could use its own discretion when it comes to enforcing the Health of Animals Regulations.

"This is not a case where the Minister (of Agriculture and Agri-Food) or the CFIA has turned their back on their duties; nor one where they have demonstrated negligence or bad faith," Boswell wrote in a decision last week.

"It is a case where they have clear discretion as to enforcement."

'No public legal duty'

The non-profit coalition's goal is to achieve a national ban on the slaughter of horses for consumption, as well as a ban on the export of live horses for food overseas.

CFIA veterinarian inspectors examine shipments of horses before they are sent to Asia.

The Canadian Horse Defence Coalition says this photograph shows a Belgian draft horse waiting to be shipped to Japan. The organization says the animals are being crammed into crates. (Canadian Horse Defence Coalition)

But the coalition argued the CFIA was allowing horses to be shipped too close to each other if they were found to be "compatible" and allowing a horse's head or ears to touch cargo netting during air transport — both violations of what it claimed were very clear regulations.

However, the judge found it's up to "owners and those in charge of crates and containers used to transport horses" to ensure the rules are met.

And the CFIA's job is to enforce the regulations — as it sees fit.

"In my view, the CFIA has no public legal duty to the coalition to enforce the [regulations]," Boswell wrote.

"If anything, its enforcement and regulatory duties are to the Minister who has granted the CFIA responsibility for ensuring the regulations and laws concerning animal transport are met."

'A mandatory duty'

Coalition lawyer Rebeka Breder told the CBC the non-profit group is considering an appeal.

She said it believes the judge was mistaken in his analysis of the law surrounding the issue.

"There is a mandatory duty in the legislation that obligates — not the exporters — but the veterinary inspectors to inspect every single shipment of horses before they are exported by air," she said.

"They have to inspect and they have to certify that all requirements of the law have been met. And so, in this case, veterinary inspectors have been certifying shipments when they have not been in compliance with the law."

Breder said she thinks the Canadian public also expects "that if laws exist that they will be enforced by the government."

The Ministry of Agriculture and Agri-Food also claims that amendments to the regulations set to come into force in February would make the case moot.

The horses in question are mostly large Belgian draft horses, which the coalition claims require room as the stress and uncertainty of a long flight may cause them anxiety.

About the Author

Jason Proctor

@proctor_jason

Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and mental health issues in the justice system extensively.

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