Montreal won't fight to renew calèche moratorium, Coderre says

Effective immediately, Montreal's horse-drawn calèches are allowed out on the streets again, after a Quebec Superior Court justice granted a nine-day injunction against the City of Montreal's year-long ban on the industry.

Quebec Superior Court justice grants 9-day injunction against city's 1-year ban on horse-drawn carriages

A calèche driver reacts to Judge Kirkland Casgrain's decision to grant a temporary injunction against the City of Montreal's ban on horse-drawn carriages. (Caroline Lacroix / Radio-Canada)

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre said Wednesday that he won't fight a Quebec Superior Court injunction against the City of Montreal's year-long ban on horse-drawn calèches.

The injunction was granted Wednesday afternoon and is effective immediately, meaning calèche drivers can return to work until June 3, when the injunction will be revisited by Justice Kirkland Casgrain.

However, Coderre said the city won't fight to see the moratorium renewed. 

"Clearly, the moratorium was not the right decision, and I won't spend the summer battling one injunction after another."

"There will be calèches this summer in Montreal."

Last week, Coderre suddenly announced the moratorium on the horse-drawn vehicles in the city. The ban took effect Tuesday.

Coderre had cited viral videos showing horses colliding with cars and apparently suffering in the heat as justification for a one-year break, to give the city time to come up with new rules.

In his ruling, Casgrain said the city didn't have authority to introduce such a moratorium.

If the city was concerned about the security of the horses, he said, then calèche drivers should not have been issued operating permits in March.

Moratorium 'cruel'

Calèche operators and drivers welcomed Casgain's decision, with one saying he can now "breathe."

"[The moratorium] wasn't justified, it wasn't correct — it was a cruel measure," said Luc Desparois, the owner of Lucky Luc Stable in Griffintown.

Calèche operator Luc Desparais, owner of Lucky Luc Stable, called the moratorium 'cruel.' (CBC)
"It's business as usual tomorrow," he said.

Audi Gozlan, the lawyer for the calèche operators, said the moratorium was "unreasonable" to begin with.

"Permits had been issued, and then three months later, Montreal unilaterally decided to take them away with no notice," he said.

The city's stated reasons for enacting the moratorium, including concern for the welfare of the horses, did not outweigh the damage it would do to the calèche operators in terms of lost income, he said.

"They have mortgages, rents to pay," he said.

"The message here for the city is that you can't take away someone's livelihood for a year," Gozlan said.

Earlier, Gozlan argued before the court that the city exceeded its authority in imposing the one-year ban.

Coderre says concerns remain, new policy needed

Coderre remained unapologetic, saying the moratorium was declared out of concerns for public security and the well-being of the horses — concerns that remain.

"My bureaucrats said the moratorium was the quickest solution, and we don't have time to lose when public security is at risk," he said.

"The problem hasn't changed. I won't let the situation remain as is — we need a horse policy in Montreal."

A horse-drawn carriage rides past the Notre Dame cathedral in Old Montreal. Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre announced a one-year moratorium on the carriages following recent accidents. (The Canadian Press)

Video of stable conditions, injured horse 

In their defence of the moratorium, lawyers for the City of Montreal showed a video to the court of an inspection of a stable where calèche horses are kept. The date the video was taken was not clear. 

It showed unclean stables with visible piles of excrement and floors caked with soiled hay. 

It also showed one horse with an open, unbandaged wound on its leg.

Gozlan argued that the city has the power to do inspections and impose fines and that it's not necessary to put dozens of people out of work without warning or compensation in order to address what he called isolated problems.

SPCA wants city to fight on

Sophie Gaillard, a lawyer with the Montreal SPCA's animal advocacy department, said what's needed is a total ban on horses by the City of Montreal. 

"We're satisfied with the moratorium in terms of a first step towards revisiting the whole existence of horse-drawn carriages in Montreal, but we stress that our position is that we need a permanent ban."

In the meantime, she said the summer-like heat that Montreal is experiencing will require city inspectors to keep a close eye on the health of calèche horses as they head back to work in Old Montreal.