Victoria council has chosen the seek further input from the BCSPCA before making any final decisions on changes to the horse-drawn carriage industry.
In a committee of the whole meeting Thursday morning, council heard from BCSPCA representatives Amy Morris, manager of policy and companion animals and Marcie Moriarty, chief prevention and enforcement officer.
The two reiterated the messages from two previous letters, dated May 28, 2018, and July 25, 2018, which outlined a desire to take a solutions-based policy approach to review existing practices and offer more safety for working horses. The letters also outlined a need to change where exactly horses are working to avoid high-traffic areas.
“We do not have a position or statement saying that a horse’s welfare can’t be met by being a working horse,” Moriarty said. “I do think there’s an opportunity to meet the five freedoms, and what that looks like though is up for discussion. “
The BCSPCA’s five freedoms include freedom from hunger and thirst; from pain, injury and disease; from distress; from discomfort, and the freedom to express behaviours that promote well-being.
As a result of the discussions, council voted to send a series of inquiries to the BCSPCA for recommendations. The motion was put forward by Coun. Ben Isitt, despite his own personal preference on the situation.
“I personally favour transitioning the industry to propulsion by non-horse means,” Isitt said, adding that he realized this wasn’t agreed upon by the majority of council. “I think we are going to have to look at some measures that don’t go as far as a phaseout but look to reduce the risk.”
The city sought input on three points. The first was whether carriages should be reduced to vehicles which only use one horse, an idea that the BCSPCA put forward in its May 28 letter.
The second is to limit the geographical areas where horses are permitted, with initial suggestions limiting the area to a northern border of Humboldt Street, Cook Street to the east, Dallas Road to the south and Victoria Harbour to the west.
“This would be somewhat balanced because it includes streets in the downtown core… [and] does provide the opportunity to go around the signature tourist attractions,” Isitt said. “It would entail the elimination of Government Street and Chinatown … I think we’re just seeing too much conflict, particularly in vicinity of the new bridge and from motor vehicle congestion.”
Lastly, council also asked for recommended working conditions for horses, including maximum temperatures and humidity.
Council voted to receive the BCSPCA’s comments when they receive the next quarterly update from staff, so at the time they would have a better understanding of the staff’s workload. Currently, staff are set to prioritize the city’s bike network, Go Victoria and the city’s strategic plan.
On Thursday morning the Victoria Horse Alliance, a group of local advocates, submitted a petition with 40,000 signatures advocating for the total banning of all horse-drawn carriages, though this was not part of council’s discussion.
“[T]his issue is not going to go away until the horse carriages are banned,” said founder Jordan Reichert in an emailed statement. “They seem more interested in appeasing industry than listening to the authority on animal welfare in this province.”
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