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Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida was in Ottawa on Thursday for his first bilateral visit to Canada. In announcing the visit, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hailed the countries’ “close friendship rooted in decades of co-operation, shared values and deep ties between our people.” There is undoubtedly much to be proud of when it comes to this relationship, and trade between the two countries plays an important role in our respective economies.

When it comes to our “shared values,” though, one aspect of our trade relationship has not kept pace with shifting public sensibilities: Canada continues to fly thousands of gentle draft horses each year to Japan, where the animals are fattened up, slaughtered, and eaten as a raw delicacy. The journey from the feedlot in Canada to the feedlot in Japan commonly takes more than 24 hours, during which time, the animals are denied food, water and rest. In fact, the journey can lawfully take up to 28 hours.

For the unlucky group of horses flown out of Winnipeg on Dec. 12, 2022, the journey was illegal — due to various delays, it took well over 28 hours. Yet, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has repeatedly refused to take any enforcement action to hold the companies responsible to account.

Forcing terrified horses to endure this gruelling journey is cruel and completely unnecessary. These animals have strong fight-or-flight instincts and incredibly sensitive hearing. Transporting them for such extended periods of time is extremely stressful and puts them at risk of severe dehydration, injury, illness, fatigue, and even death. For their flight overseas, horses exported for slaughter are forced into tiny wooden crates that do not even allow them to turn around.

These harsh conditions are in stark contrast to the luxury with which Prime Minister Kishida travelled between Japan and Canada this week. Did he enjoy a hot meal or have a rest on the plane? Did he keep hydrated? Needless to say, Kishida did not travel to the airport in an open-sided truck with workers violently prodding him with a metal pole when it was time to disembark. He was not made to stand still in a wooden crate on the loud tarmac or for the duration of his flight. Food and water were not withheld from Kishida during any part of his journey, let alone for 28 hours or more. No doubt, Kishida — as with most people — would consider such treatment entirely unacceptable.

Of course, the analogy can only go so far. A grisly and unspeakably violent fate ultimately awaits all horses exported overseas for slaughter.

No one, whether horse or human, should be made to endure the conditions experienced by these horses. Canadians are increasingly opposed to the practice and during the last federal election, the governing Liberals committed to stopping it. The federal agriculture minister was directed to make good on this promise in her Dec. 16, 2021 mandate letter.

More than a year later, nothing has happened. Thousands of horses have paid the ultimate price for the minister’s inaction. Canadian icon Jann Arden has now launched a parliamentary e-petition in an effort to force the minister to finally follow through and end the live export of horses for slaughter.

There is no excuse for the Canadian government’s failure to act on its commitment. Live horses do not make up a significant percentage of the overall value of our total exports to Japan and serve only to satisfy a small niche market of wealthy individuals who are willing and able to pay top dollar for raw horse sashimi.

Live horses do not make up a significant percentage of the overall value of our total exports to Japan and serve only to satisfy a niche market of wealthy individuals who are willing to pay top dollar for raw horse sashimi, writes @AnimalJustice

Yet another shipment of horses left Winnipeg for Japan just this week. Let’s hope it’s the last. Now is the time for Canada to turn the page on this dark and archaic practice and bring its trade relationship with Japan in line with the “shared values” the leaders claim to hold dear.

Kaitlyn Mitchell is the director of legal advocacy with Animal Justice, Canada’s leading national animal law organization.

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I will always remember the many times I drove Hwy 3 (the Crowsnest Highway) in southern Alberta, on my way between Calgary and Pincher Creek, and seeing the feedlot down in the Oldman River valley just west of Brocket. It was obvious even from the highway that the feedlot was full of horses, not cattle. That was 15 years ago, but Google Maps still shows a feedlot business there...