Since the announcement of an urban rodeo as part of the activities planned for Montreal’s 375th anniversary this summer, many local residents have vacillated between confusion and anger. Confusion, because a rodeo has nothing to do with the history or traditions of the city, and anger, because the event relies on the needless suffering of animals for mere entertainment.
The Montreal SPCA has launched a petition against the “cruel” event where “animals are subjected to fear, stress and undue risk of injury or even death.” At last count, the petition was at 14,000-plus signatures and going strong. In addition, 600 veterinarians and vet techs have signed a petition of their own.
NomadFest, the name given to the rodeo, claims all measures have been taken to ensure the animals are cared for.
“We believe that our reputation, pristine track record and professional demeanour back up our belief that our methods can be a benchmark in the world of entertainment using animals,” wrote Sophie Marsolais of SMAC Communications, the press agency representing NomadFest, in an email.
She cited information compiled by Pascal Lafrenière, the general manager of the Festival Western of St-Tite; Dr. Pierre Gauthier, a veterinarian; and Sylvain Bourgeois, the rodeo director for NomadFest and the Festival Western of St-Tite.
Marsolais provided further information emphasizing the prioritization of the animals’ welfare (animals perform on average 10 to 15 times per year; in a competition of two days or more, the rodeo horses come out at most twice and the bulls come out at most three times because of their physical endurance; the animal injury rate is 0.0046 per cent) and explaining that a team of veterinarians is present in case of injuries during competition.
Animal deaths at Canada’s largest rodeo
No one at NomadFest would deliberately hurt the animals involved. After all, they are a financial investment, and it’s clear they’re seen as such when the organizers state in the email that “these animals [are] worth a lot of money (between $ 2,500 and $ 250,000).” But the information provided ignores or downplays well-known facts.
Having vets on site has not prevented the deaths of hundreds of horses at the Calgary Stampede, Canada’s largest rodeo, over the years from heart attacks, embolisms, and inevitable euthanasia after broken legs and other injuries have been sustained. In fact, the list of animal casualties compiled over the years by the Calgary Humane Society and the Vancouver Humane Society is long and alarming.
In 2005, nine horses were spooked while galloping across a city bridge (because the organizers thought the sight of 200 horses running through downtown Calgary would make for an awesome photo) and plunged to their deaths in the Bow River.
An old and cruel tradition
Of course, using animals for the sake of entertainment is an embarrassingly old human tradition. Circuses and cock, dog, and bull fighting use and abuse helpless animals, who obviously never consented to any of it.
But attitudes towards animal welfare have been changing. Numerous countries no longer allow cosmetics testing on animals, and legislation against animal cruelty and consequent penalties have been strengthened. Bullfighting is almost a relic of the past. England, Scotland and the Netherlands have banned rodeos, and many other countries prohibit certain rodeo events. Likewise, many U.S. states prohibit particular events as well the use of painful tools, such as the electric prod.
In Canada, the city of Vancouver banned rodeos in 2006. But in sharp contrast to the global tide of rising animal welfare awareness, Montreal and its current administration are reviving a cruel tradition that doesn’t even have anything to do with the city’s history, culture, and identity.
Animal welfare and the law
Legislation pertaining to farming practices has somehow extended to entertainment events. This means that rodeo events are not covered by Canadian animal cruelty laws because traditionally they have been considered “generally accepted practices of animal management” for the treatment of livestock.
The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association accepts the use of animals for entertainment and recreation when the physical, social and behavioural needs of the animals are met. But the Montreal SPCA asserts that rodeo animals are subjected to fear, stress and undue risk of injury or even death, which infringes on Quebec’s newly enacted Animal Welfare and Safety Act, passed in 2016 to improve and expand animal protections. In fact, several sections of the new legislation make specific references to an animal being in distress if it is “exposed to conditions that cause extreme anxiety or suffering.”
Is that not in fact enough to consider Montreal’s urban rodeo in clear violation of the new provincial animal welfare law? That’s what lawyer Michael Simkin asked in a recent Huffington Post article. Sophie Gaillard, lawyer and animal advocate for the Montreal SPCA, said that “the possibility of bringing a legal challenge is certainly being discussed amongst those who oppose the rodeo.”
With the urban rodeo only four months away, and with public outrage by animal lovers in the city and across the country becoming louder, the chances are high that we may be hearing of one very soon.
Editors' note: This article originally stated that 600 veterinarians had signed a petition of their own. In fact, the number includes veterinarians and vet techs.