Calèche owner launches last-ditch court fight against Montreal's horse-drawn carriage ban

Luc Desparois, owner of Lucky Luc stables, says he'll be in court Tuesday afternoon, fighting what he calls a “stupid” regulation that will “prevent us from working — from earning our living.” Montreal is standing firm behind its decision.

Citywide ban on calèche industry goes into effect on New Year's Day

Luc Desparois rents the land where his stable is located, in Griffintown. He filed a court injunction Monday against Montreal's ban on horse-drawn carriages, which goes into effect on Jan. 1. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Update Dec. 17: A judge postponed Tuesday's hearing until Thurs., Dec. 19 to allow the City of Montreal more time to prepare.

A longtime Montreal stable owner has filed a last-minute court injunction to try to stop the city from banning horse-drawn carriages. The ban takes effect on New Year's Day.

Luc Desparois, owner of Lucky Luc stables, said he'll be in court Tuesday, fighting what he calls a "stupid" regulation that will "prevent us from working — from earning our living."

The city approved the ban after a series of incidents involving the calèche horses, ranging from their collapse to a collision with a car, prompted growing calls for a prohibition on the horse-drawn carriages.

Desparois accused the mayor of basing a decision to impose the ban on lies. He said he would stop running his business immediately if there were any evidence that the calèche industry is bad for horses.

"You say the horses are mistreated. You say it's not good for the horses to do this. Give the proof," he said.

"I love my animals. I wouldn't hurt them. If I didn't think it was right for the horses to do this, I wouldn't be doing this myself."

Desparois was found guilty of making his horse work in extreme heat this past July. An inspector found the horse, Fred, pulling a carriage when it was 29 C outside.

Lucky Luc stable has been operating in Griffintown since 1994. Its owner says he will try to make a living sending his horses outside of the city, but it won't be as profitable. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Desparois was fined $500, as municipal regulations say horses must stop working at 28 C or higher.

In November 2018, one of his horses died while on duty. At that time, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said the animal's sudden death confirmed her Projet Montréal administration's decision to shut down the calèche industry was the right one.

Desparois said he has never been shown the results of a necropsy on the cause of death and hasn't seen any evidence that the horse died because of mistreatment.

Owners offered compensation

With the ban about to go into effect, owners like Desparois have been entitled to compensation since May 1.

Horse owners have been offered $1,000, and the SPCA and another animal rights association have said they will help place the animals with adoptive families and shelters.

Project Montréal Coun. Sterling Downey, the city's deputy mayor, said the goal was to provide the horses with new lives in the countryside — but only one horse owner signed on.

It appears owners are still "exploiting these animals" outside of Montreal as the bylaw only impacts the City of Montreal, he said.

Deputy Mayor Sterling Downey said Montreal is not backing away from the ban. Calèche owners were offered compensation and a year to transition out of the industry, he points out. (CBC)

"We're talking about putting an end to the calèche industry in Montreal in terms of guided tourism and hoping that people will transition into another offer in terms of guided tourism," said Downey.

People in the industry were given a year to make that transition, he said, and the administration feels that was ample time.

Downey questioned the strategy of filing an injunction now, just before the ban goes into effect, and said he's confident the city will come out on top.

Moving outside of city

Desparois said it took him nearly a year to come up with the funding to launch the legal fight, and that's why it appears to be coming at the last minute.

If his injunction fails, he will join those calèche owners headed outside the city for work — something he already does. 

But he won't make nearly the same income as he does in the Old Port, where tourists and Montrealers alike come to visit the animals, bringing carrots and other treats and going for rides in the carriages, he said.

He said the horses are treated well and do fine in Montreal's weather. He said the ban is a reaction to a few negative incidents "that got pulled out of proportion."

As far as the legal basis of his court fight, Desparois said that will be revealed in court.

"Come see me tomorrow."

With files from Jaela Bernstien