Thomas Walkom: Canada's rules for transporting animals are weak — but they're also not rigorously enforced
In Canada, the rules for transporting animals are already weak. Pigs can be trucked for up to 36 hours without food or water. For cattle, the number is 52 hours.
Animals can be shipped in the freezing cold or broiling sun — as long as they do not suffer “undue exposure” to the elements (whatever that means).
But inspection reports released to the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals has revealed another glaring inadequacy: In much of Canada, including Ontario, the rules are not rigorously enforced.
To be more specific, in 2016 and 2017 the Canadian Food Inspection Agency conducted spot inspections of trucks carrying animals in only five provinces: British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.
Exactly why Ontario and other provinces were exempted from these spot checks remains unclear. A CFIA spokesman said only that the agency’s “highway and border inspections are conducted pending the availability of law enforcement partners and appropriate weather conditions.”
The reports, released to the animal welfare coalition by the CFIA under access-to-information laws and passed on to the Star, show that the federal agency conducted 269 highway inspections over the two-year period, mainly in Saskatchewan.
In virtually all of those inspections, the truckers were ultimately found to be in compliance with CFIA regulations — even when, initially, they weren’t.
In December 2017, for instance, an unheated truck containing 45 cows in -20C weather was stopped by a CFIA inspector in Saskatchewan. The inspector wrote that he initially deemed the transport inadequate but changed his mind after the trucker agreed to put some boards along the sides of the vehicle and after he allowed his cattle to rest for five hours in a warm barn.
In February 2016, another truck transporting 26 horses to a slaughterhouse was stopped for inspection in Saskatchewan. The inspector found that one of the horses appeared too sick to get up — a regulatory no-no.
So he had the trucker unload his vehicle until the downed horse could struggle to its feet. The inspector then okayed the transport as compliant with the law and let the truck continue on.
The reports show that the CFIA became most engaged when the animals involved were slated for export. In June 2017, for instance, a truck containing 2,525 Canadian baby piglets was turned back at the U.S. border.
The Americans found the piglets were dirty and overcrowded. Seven had died.
This caused much consternation on the Canadian side. One of the problems, according to CFIA emails, was that for sanitary reasons the piglets could not be returned to the farm they came from. If the U.S. remained adamant, there was nowhere for them to go.
Eventually, however, the Americans relented and let the truck in. By the time it had reached its final destination in Iowa, eight more piglets were dead.
Similarly, in May 2016, 21 cattle were refused entry by the U.S. One calf was lame and one steer missing its ear tag. The trucker was persuaded by CFIA officials to let his cattle have food, water and a vet check. He then reloaded his trailer with all but the suspect calf and steer and made his way back to the border where, this time, he was allowed entry.
Later that month, another inspector found a dead pig in a load of 900 slated for export to the U.S. Nonetheless, he ruled that the other 899 were in compliance with regulations.
In November 2016, a truckload of 30 boars was refused entry into the U.S. The problem: two of the boars were dead. The CFIA reports are silent on what happened to the other 28.
Not all of the reports are negative. Many of the spot inspections — particularly those related to valuable show or breeding animals — indicate that some care was taken by truckers transporting them.
And at least, in those cases, federal agents were making inspections. In Ontario, they weren’t.
Thomas Walkom is a Toronto-based columnist covering politics. Follow him on Twitter: @tomwalkom
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