King of the Wind…
or Basashi with Rice?

What do horses mean to Canadians?

By Sinikka Crosland

Black Beauty and King of the Wind will always reign as treasured classics in my own heart’s library, as will the Black Stallion books penned by Walter Farley more than half a century ago. Now, lost in an era of iPods, cool apps and video games, I can’t help but hope that kids across Canada are still enjoying the equine adventures that catapulted my ten-year-old self from the exhilaration of riding a saddle-free stallion along a tropical beach, to the depths of bittersweet sorrow at the grave of the Godolphin Arabian. Even in those days, when the path of life was tackled with bare feet and 10-cent cream sodas, a fascinating world of horse literature bestowed its laughter and tears on young readers like me. And from those stories arose my early stirrings of empathy for these noble animals that have pulled our wagons, ploughed our fields, and allowed us to straddle their backs for our riding pleasure.

In many ways, horses still decorate our culture as beloved icons of elegantly unrestrained motion, Olympian strength and breath-taking speed. They excel at Spruce Meadows, take our breath away on the racetrack, and make us proud to be living in Canada where we can witness the perfect unison of RCMP riders and mounts.

air transport of horses -

Image: Vickie Colgan

There is no doubt that many Canadians love horses. We admire their beauty, their intelligence, and their willingness to serve us. But just how much of the word ‘serve’ do we actually understand, as it relates to these animals? In fact, how Canadian is it to eat horses?

A small percentage of our citizens do exactly that, mainly in the province of Quebec, where certain restaurants serve horsemeat and where some supermarkets carry a supply. Still another small percentage of our society indulges in the horsemeat trade, which involves the world of livestock auctions, feedlots, and equine slaughterhouses. It may surprise some readers that Canada butchers more than 50,000 horses annually. Their meat is subsequently shipped to countries of Europe and Asia for human consumption.

A lesser-known aspect of the trade is the air transport of horses to Japan for culinary purposes. We export over 5,000 live horses annually to Japan, where they are slaughtered for basashi (horsemeat sashimi), a delicacy consisting of thin slices of meat served raw.

It may surprise some readers that Canada butchers more than 50,000 horses annually. A lesser-known aspect of the trade is the air transport of horses to Japan for culinary purposes.

wounded horse -

Image: Animal Rights Center Japan

Typically large ‘draft’ breeds, these gentle giants are crammed into small wooden crates covered in netting for their overseas journey. As if the betrayal of homeland slaughter is not enough, the industry whisks them off to a foreign nation where all Canadian control over acceptable practices is lost. On that note, I should add that such practices even in our own country have been criticized from a humane perspective, as horses are not easy to kill. Undercover video has documented up to eleven stunning attempts before the goal of insensibility has been achieved. Horses are good at fighting for their lives.

Further, it is evident that the suffering begins long before the overseas flight and the kill floor. Horses destined for death overseas are housed in crowded, filthy Canadian feedlots and many suffer from infected wounds and various injuries. Some horses have been raised specifically for meat in Canada, but others have already endured the rigours of auction and transport from distant regions of the United States. Photographs and video taken at recipient Japanese feedlots portray similarly crowded conditions littered with fly-infested manure as well as health-compromised animals.

horse feed lot -

Image: Animal Rights Center Japan

‘Access-to-Information records have revealed numerous casualties… the devastating deaths of six horses that perished during a flight … a horse found upside-down in his crate.’

Live horses earmarked for slaughter depart Canada from three airports – Calgary, Edmonton, and Winnipeg. Typically, the horses are herded onto large transport trucks at Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) quarantine stations, and are moved to the airport. Transfer from truck to wooden crate generally takes place late at night. The horses, often crammed three to four per container, must wait on the tarmac until loading onto the aircraft begins, usually around mid-morning. No food or water is offered to them while they are crated, and flight time to Japan is 10 to 12 hours. Canada’s inadequate transport regulations permit horses to have food and water withheld for up to 36 hours. Access-to-Information records have revealed numerous casualties, including the devastating deaths of six horses that perished during a flight and, on a different occasion, a horse found upside-down in his crate.

Why Canada allows such suffering is the million-dollar question – to the tune of over $14 million, in fact, in 2016. That amount translates to 5,839 horses exported to Japan for slaughter last year.

horse airport trailer -

Image: Voice for Animals

But there’s more: Since 2012, the industry has come under fire for not being in compliance with the law. The Health of Animals Regulations (HAR) state that no more than one horse over 14 hands high can occupy a single crate and, further, that the horses’ heads must not come into contact with the ceiling of their container. Yet photographic and video evidence captured at Calgary and Edmonton airports, as recently as 2017, illustrates that these two protective sections of the HAR are routinely ignored.

‘Many horses in Canada and the U.S. have not been raised as food animals and have been treated with drugs toxic to humans.’

Also of concern is the matter of prohibited drug residues lurking in horse steaks and basashi. Many horses in Canada and the U.S. have not been raised as food animals and have been treated with drugs toxic to humans. However, for the sake of profitable trade with other countries, such details tend to be overlooked or ignored.

Bouton S'inscrire à l'infolettre – WestmountMag.caUntil new legislation is passed to protect horses, these noble animals will continue to be victims of the slaughter industry. There is no better time than now for Canadians to convey a message to their Members of Parliament – that horses deserve better.

For more information on live exports of horses for slaughter (or equine slaughter in general), and what you can do to help, please visit

Feature image: Vickie Colgan

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of its author and do not reflect the opinions of, its publishers or editors.

Read also: A cruel detour to the slaughterhouse

Sinikka Crosland -

Sinikka Crosland is a long-time animal activist. She is the Executive Director of The Canadian Horse Defence Coalition (based in Westbank, British Columbia) and co-founder, past president and advisor for The Responsible Animal Care Society (based in Kelowna, British Columbia).

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There are 17 comments

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  1. Georges Dupras

    Canada has much to be proud of but, in recent years, our reputation for the treatment of animals and the environment puts us at the bottom of the ladder. Because of the Outdoor Caucus, Canadians can no longer count on our elected representatives to think or act beyond political gain. SHAME

  2. Karin

    This is a National shame. Most people are shocked when they find out that Canada does this to horses. The shippers move the horses at night and watching the process, it is very evident that they are working hard to keep the activity hidden. Canada is a hell for animals and the CFIA is in the pocket of animal agriculture and those who use animals or financial gain. The laws need to change and the drivers of that change need to be politicians who do not come from an animal agriculture, hunting, trapping and fishing background and are not lobbied by those groups. The government is a horribly corrupt ‘old boys club’ in this area and animals are suffering for it. Shame on #YEG #Edmonton #EdmontonInternationalAirport #EIA #FlyEIA in being a part of live horse shipments for slaughter.

  3. Tove Reece

    The live export of horses from Canada to Japan is indescribably cruel. No food or water for 36 hours and that’s just the law, not what actually happens. Watching the loading of these beautiful and sensitive animals crammed into wooden containers and listening to the drumbeat of their hooves is heartbreaking. The government of Canada which allows this cruelty ought to be deeply ashamed of themselves. Please everyone who reads this article, speak out, phone or write your MP and inform others around you.

  4. Ingrid Garcia

    It’s shameful that our country puts money first over the welfare of these beautiful amazing animals. I can only imagine the fear and anguish these animals feel before being Transported in such cruel conditions

  5. Anne Streeter

    Thank you Sinikka for exposing this particularly brutal treatment of horses. Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency have everything to be ashamed of. This can and must be stopped! This is completely unacceptable!

  6. Christine

    There should never ever be any animal export to any country from Canada for slaughter this is disgusting especially of all places China Korea all of them they brutalized there animals in horrid ways this must stop now

  7. Jodie Foster

    I agree with Georges Dupras, Canada is losing respect on the world stage for our poor treatment of animals with battery cages, gestation pens and 24/7 dairies, to add this to the already bad reputation is just another step backwards. These horses do not need to be shipped this way and this cruelty has to be stopped. This is unnecessary suffering for some ones profit!! Shame on Canada!!

  8. Patti

    It’s disgraceful. Horses fought wars along side of us – they are part of our heritage in the RCMP ride and many other aspects of our lives. I have a letter from the CFIA where they confirm that they have no idea of the fate of the drafts upon arrival in Japan. Shameful that they are sneaking around at night because they are obviously aware that is animal abuse. I read the Criminal Code and in my opinion that practice of shipping the live drafts is definitely Animal Abuse – maybe an Injunction?

  9. Sue S

    Shame on those government representatives, legislators and animal-use industries who fought every time Canadians have supported and presented stronger legislation to protect animals against such cruelty as this. CFIA is woefully inadequate in performing their mandate, as proven by numerous undercover investigations and FOIP. A huge thank you to Sinnika, Canadian Horse Defence Coalition and a few courageous MP’s for exposing this horrible, profit-driven industry. Please let our elected officials know now and at election time, that Canadians will not stand for this unnecessary cruel treatment of our horses, which denies them their basic needs. We are better than that.

  10. Doris Potter

    I agree with Tove Reece and will reiterate: Please everyone who reads this article, speak out, phone or write your MP and inform others around you.

  11. Susann

    WOW.. shocking. I cannot believe that Canada will allow such cruelty to animals! No food or water for 36 hours! Disgraceful!
    We are trying to amend laws in Canada for the horrible, neglect and abuse and then this is allowed to happen.
    There is no need that these animals be treated this way! Shame on Canada!
    Feeling very sickened by this!

  12. Shannon Koby

    Who is gaining from this cruel treatment of these sensitive beautiful animals? Are we really this ignorant as a country to allow this to go on? Money and greed in the name of animal suffering. Really makes me nauseous knowing that Canada would allow this. Can we publish the names of the people involved? We need to put pressure on the media to expose this!

  13. L. Grayson

    We are just one family who no longer spend tourism dollars in Canada since we learned of this despicable practise of shipping live horses for slaughter. Every year we used to spend two weeks in Canada in hotels – on two separate trips – (we have no family there). But no more! Our money will not be missed, but I wonder how many others are like us. Now we also realize that Canada accepts drug ridden horses from the USA to slaughter them for human consumption. Shame on you, Canada!

  14. Jean Le marquand

    Horse slaughter, as is all animal slaughter for food, cruel and unnecessary. The fact that they are suffering in shipment long before they reach the killing floor, is even more despicable. I am dismayed at the Canadian Govt’s slow response in implementing more modern and ethically acceptable guidelines for treatment of animals in this country.

  15. Ray Kellosalmi, BSc., MD

    For those that may not be aware, in 2014 MP Alex Atamanenko introduced Bill c-571 in Parliament in a bid to end most horse slaughter in Canada. Two thirds of his fellow NDP colleagues voted to end horse slaughter, while only 2 Conservatives did. The Liberals, including their young leader Justin Trudeau, voted unanimously to end horse slaughter. Dr. Hedy Fry MD, a Liberal MP, spoke passionately and scientifically about why horse slaughter must be ended, citing also the very real risk of dangers to human health due to the drugs most horses have been given. ( The number of human deaths worldwide associated with just one of those drugs, phenylbutazone or “bute”, has been reported as up to 10,000……) . The bill went down to defeat with the Conservative majority carrying the day.
    And now, with the Liberal majority, what do we find ?
    It appears that the ethical Liberal stance died as soon as they were elected. No comment from Justin Trudeau. The eloquent Hedy Fry MD ignores letters about the issue. Her colleagues do the same, or send out a form letter that avoids the facts.
    And so the horses continue to be slaughtered here and shipped to Japan for slaughter as well, no matter how toxic the meat, no matter how inhumane the process.
    Who to contact? The lists are all there on the CHDC ( Canadian Horse Defence Coalition) website.

    Ray Kellosalmi, BSc., MD.

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