Highlighting unseen animal cruelty in our city

How the election could help Quebec move towards a better system for animal welfare

Citizens of Montreal, we have a problem. It’s time we talked about how our city handles animal welfare because the current way is completely unacceptable.

Over the summer, news outlets went wild over the calèche horse that collapsed in the Old Port. I am the first to admit utilizing animal labour for our own monetary gain is horrible. But what about the animals we interact with on a daily basis? What about stray dogs and cats we see on the streets?

It starts with shelters. It’s great that we have them here in Montreal, however, the public is ignorant about how the city deals with shelters and animal services. Montreal is split into boroughs which are all responsible for their own dealings in animal services. To clarify, animal services can include things like how the boroughs deal with surrendered pets, strays and cleaning up roadkill. According to the Montreal SPCA website, their services include investigations and inspections, foster programs, lost and found animals and the TNRM program (trap-neuter-release-and-maintain) for stray cats.

In our city, animal services are taken care of either by the non-profit Montreal SPCA or the for-profit privately contracted and operated “shelter” Le Berger Blanc Inc. To differentiate, non-profits are mission-based and ultimately service the animals, whereas Le Berger Blanc wants to make money from adopting out animals.

Each borough in the city chooses either the Montreal SPCA or Le Berger Blanc in a sort of “bidding-war” to see who takes care of animal services. The provider who gives a better bid (less costly, offers certain services, etc.) is contracted and has full reign over animal services in that borough.

This system is incredibly out-dated and, according to former Minister of Agriculture Pierre Paradis in a Montreal Gazette article, “Quebec is about 20 years behind the rest of the civilized world” in terms of how the province deals with animal welfare. Not to mention our province is considered “the animal abuse capital of Canada,” according to the same article.

A large part of the problem is Le Berger Blanc Inc. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because they were caught in a big scandal in 2011. A documentary was released showcasing an undercover Society for the Protection of Animals (SPA) worker’s time “employed” at Le Berger Blanc facilities, where he recorded the abuse and murder of animals at this so-called “shelter.”

The documentary, Le Mauvais Berger Blanc, was broadcasted by the Radio-Canada program Enquête, and honestly, the video is brutal. Throughout 26 minutes, you see footage of the mistreatment in these “shelters.” Workers blatantly lied to patrons searching for their lost pets, illegally performed euthanasia that caused animals pain and threw half-living animals into garbage bins. The director of the shelter, Pierre Couture, and his wife, Murielle De Lasalle—who is also Le Berger Blanc’s operations director—were confronted with the footage. They were in disbelief and supposedly unaware of their employees’ actions.

While the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association stipulates that euthanasia be conducted by a trained veterinarian in a manner “that is quick […] and causes the least possible pain and distress,” the documentary shows the exact opposite. In one case, footage captures a general employee at Le Berger Blanc euthanizing a dog by repeatedly stabbing it with a needle. In another case, a cat, whose lower torso is totally paralyzed, drags its legs across the floor in an effort to escape. Another cat runs hysterically back and forth in a cramped cage, and an employee laughs when the animal’s paralyzed leg gets caught in the cage’s bars. The expression of a dog standing among a sea of dead canine bodies as it waits for its turn still haunts me to this day.

Le Berger Blanc has changed for the better since the scandal in 2011. According to a Montreal Gazette editorial in February, strict new conditions specified that “healthy animals are not to be euthanized […], operations will be subject to spot checks and camera recordings must be made available upon request.”

But do we still want a corporation with such a history of animal cruelty to be responsible for our city’s animal services?

As a society, we need to re-evaluate how our city deals with animal services. Le Berger Blanc is not looking for long-term or big-picture solutions to rectify animal welfare issues in Montreal. This corporation does not care about problems like the overpopulation of cats, breed-specific bans, lack of education on animal behaviours and needs or respecting animal rights—they are simply looking to make money. For this reason, the upcoming municipal election is an important one for animal welfare.

We have a mayoral candidate whose platform actually mentions animal welfare measures, including protecting animals in our city rather than treating them as objects to gain profit from. Projet Montréal’s platform on animal welfare plans to “prohibit the transfer of lost or abandoned animals to laboratories for research or commercial purposes. Make it mandatory that they be transferred to rescue organizations instead […] provide support for animal sterilization […] support education programs in schools to educate young people about the responsibilities of animal owners.”

These kinds of actions would really lead Montreal in the right direction towards adequate animal service policies and, hopefully, to a complete overhaul of the city’s current system. We should be looking to other cities and the success they’ve had.

Calgary’s model is a perfect example. Bill Bruce, the former director of Calgary animal and bylaw services, developed a model that requires owners to properly train, sterilize and exercise their pet, provide it with adequate medical care and ensure the animal is not a threat or nuisance to the city, according to an article in the Calgary Herald. In an interview, Bruce explained that his model is about shifting “away from the animal control model to the responsible pet owner model. [It is about] empowering people to be great pet owners.”

There’s a lot of work to be done in our city, but this is more than just a pet owner’s problem. This is an everyone problem. This is about looking at the bigger picture and seeing animals as more than just property, but as sentient beings. We need to eliminate the use of Le Berger Blanc, which is only concerned with profit—not the welfare of the animals it is responsible for.

We need to care. We need to act. We need change.

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin


Owning an exotic animal should be illegal in Quebec

Acquiring exotic pets is absolutely ludicrous and should be banned provincially

Dogs, cats, goldfish, turtles and rabbits. What do all these animals have in common? They’re typical household pets. However, in the last few years, animals such as pigs, monkeys and foxes have become additions to suburban households. According to the Globe and Mail, there has been an increase of import of exotic pets in Canada in the last 15 years, particularly with reptiles.

Now, as cute as these animals may look and no matter how much fun you think it might be to have a pet lemur, consider the following: they’re wild animals! Who came up with the idea to domesticate and toilet train a fox? It’s a horrible idea. Just buy a cat and tell your friends you own a tiger.

One could argue: “Well, dogs were essentially wolves that man domesticated, so why can’t I own a fox?” My answer: domestication didn’t just happen overnight. It’s not as if one day a wolf wants to eat you and the next day it’s man’s best friend. This process took thousands of years to become what it is today. According to The Atlantic, humans didn’t even play as much of a role in this evolution as we think, but rather, the wolves themselves changed in body and temperament. This means ancient wolves made some sort of conscious effort in the domestication process. So until monkeys start asking to live in your bedroom, or until foxes jump at the chance to go for a walk on a leash, they should not be kept as pets.

People must also consider the blatant danger of owning such animals. NatGeoWild published an article recounting incidents of injuries by exotic pets towards humans. For example, in 2009, a 21-year-old woman was hospitalized after one of her two “pet” black bears attacked her. In 2012, a python bit a four-year-old as she was “playing” with it. There are countless documented injuries caused by wild animals kept as pets that could have very easily been avoided.

National Geographic’s Dr. K’s Exotic Animal ER is a television series about a veterinary clinic that specializes in exotic animals and pets in the United States. In one episode, a couple walked into the clinic to have their pet lynx examined by the veterinarian. This was absolutely insane to me. Lynxes are predators, yet the owners said it’s like having a big cat at home. No, it’s more like having a lynx at home that can rip your face apart at any time.

In wondering how the laws differed in Canada from the United States, I learned that our laws in Quebec are terrible. According to the regulation respecting animals in captivity, Article 14 states: “Anyone who keeps an animal referred to in Section 13 in captivity may dispose of it by selling it, giving it away or slaughtering it.” Mammals referred to in Section 13 include foxes and minks, meaning that, after you have legally bred foxes, you can dispose of them how you like. Article 15 states no license is required to keep a monkey if it is trained to assist someone with physical disabilities. Although this is legal, it’s disgusting. Rather than a therapy dog, you can legally have a therapy monkey.

To be frank, the fact that there are laws giving human beings the right to own wild animals and specifying how to treat these animals is horrifying. The fact that people choose to own “exotic pets,” which are just wild animals, is dangerous. But what’s even worse is we have laws giving us the right to use and abuse them only to dispose of them how we like. We might as well have no animal ownership laws, because these laws aren’t really helping anyway.

Let’s all keep in mind the irony in that there are very strict laws regarding pit bull ownership, including forcing them to wear muzzles and yet, owning a pet monkey or exotic reptile is fine and within our rights as Canadians. This needs to stop. Stop trying to domesticate wild animals, stop owning them—just let them live in the wild where they belong.


The Genji Pianists play beautiful music for a good cause

On Sunday evening, the second-ever Ghibli Night, featuring the Genji Pianists, welcomed fans of music and Studio Ghibli films, for a night of delicious eats, nostalgia and all around good vibes. Marusan Comptoir Japonais, a small restaurant on Notre-Dame, hosted the event. Both trained in classical music, Sho Takashima and Saki Uchida make up the piano duo Genji Pianists. Originally founded by Takashima and formerly named the Genji Project, the group previously included musicians playing violin, cello and guitar before the musicians went their separate ways. Wanting to continue the project, Takashima found Uchida.

“We both found out we had this huge passion for music, and we realized that there weren’t that many musical events in town that were about Japanese culture, Japanese music,” said Uchida. Uchida said she noticed there was a large Ghibli fan-base in Montreal, so it made sense to have a concert showcasing the music from Studio Ghibli films. Studio Ghibli Inc., an iconic Japanese animation studio, is known for creating incredible films with highly-developed characters, creative worlds, accompanied by emotional and riveting music. Films such as Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle and My Neighbor Totoro, to name a few, have gained popularity in recent years in North America.

“It’s like the Disney of the [Eastern] world,” said Uchida. Having both grown up watching the films, the duo spoke fondly of listening to Ghibli music. When asked about the difficulty in learning the music of Ghibli, Takashima said, “it came naturally. It was like when you see the scores and know right away the scenes.” Besides wanting to share their love of their culture and Ghibli through music, a big part of their shows is to raise awareness about the people in Japan still suffering from the impacts of the 2011 tsunami and earthquake. Proceeds from all their concerts, Ghibli Nights included, go to Kizuna Japon, a Montreal-based group that allows you to donate to several non-profit organizations.

For Takashima and Uchida, giving support to Japan is of vital importance. Born and raised in Japan, Takashima explained how she experienced the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. When she moved to Montreal in 2012, she began the Genji Project to entertain people with beautiful music, but also to spread awareness about the tragedy in Japan and all the people who were affected by it. “We felt we had to help in some way, to spread love for music and love for Ghibli, but also to raise awareness and money for charities that sends money to Japan,” she said. Although they haven’t decided which specific charity to donate to yet, they are looking at the Fukushima Children Fund, which donates money to children suffering from radiation and living in radiation-active areas in Japan.

The Genji Pianists at Ghibli night. Photo courtesy of Sho Takashima & Saki Uchida

As Takashima and Uchida took their seats side-by-side behind the electric piano, while clips from the film Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind were projected onto a blank wall behind them. I felt goosebumps down my arms as I listened to them play. Their final song, the most recognizable one and the main theme song from Howl’s Moving Castle, gave me flashbacks to my first experiences watching these films and the joy they continue to bring me.

Takashima described a previous performance when, as they played music from Princess Mononoke, Uchida commented on just how beautiful the song was. They both laughed as they remembered the moment. Their admiration for the music is evident and just goes to show that these movies are classic and will always have an impact on viewers.

The Genji Pianists play a variety of shows and musical styles, from classical music to anime televisions series and video game theme songs. Follow the Genji Pianists on their Facebook group to stay in the loop.


A better life for animals can be found outside of zoos

The horrific reality of zoos and why we should completely ban them

The zoo has always been an exciting place for people to see great wild animals from around the world, but in the comfort of their suburban cities. However, many zoo-goers ignore or don’t think about the well-being of these animals in captivity. They don’t realize they are supporting institutions that subject animals to mistreatment and poor living conditions.

I’m strongly against zoos and I believe more people need to hop on this bandwagon. Since the death of SeaWorld’s captive orca, Tilikum, featured in the 2013 documentary Blackfish, I’ve decided it’s time to create awareness about the horrific effects zoos have on the animals they hold captive.

Although Blackfish depicts the tragic deaths of SeaWorld employees as a result of Tilikum’s abnormally aggressive behaviour, the documentary gets to the core of the issue. The film begins with footage of the horrific capture of wild orcas. Viewers see these gigantic mammals confined to tiny pools, sometimes two per tank, where they are forced to socialize, mate and are trained to perform tricks.

The film sheds light on how these killer whales become so vicious and violent, highlighting the physical abuse they experience from tankmates and the self-inflicted injuries resulting from psychological trauma. These animals cannot survive in cages. Numerous documentaries show that whales are intelligent and highly social creatures, capable of feeling a wide spectrum of emotions and pain.

A killer whale can grow up to 32 feet long, according to National Geographic—it’s clearly not meant to be held in a tiny enclosure with other whales of that size. According to Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), a charity organization dedicated to protecting whales and dolphins, 163 orcas have died in captivity since 1961.

I’ve argued about zoos with several people and heard responses such as: “zoos are important for educational purposes” and “animals live longer in captivity than they would in the wild,” among others. Frankly, those are bullshit excuses. There are ways to educate ourselves and children about wildlife without having to capture wild animals and confine them in unnatural, tiny enclosures. Take Granby Zoo or the Biodome, for example. Yes, those are both fun places, but last time I checked, Quebec didn’t have a raging population of penguins and lions. Children and people in general don’t need to see the animals in person to learn about them, so removing them from their natural habitats is disruptive to the animals themselves and is unnecessary. Quebec isn’t the native environment of giraffes, polar bears, seals or boa constrictors so it isn’t right to ship them over here just so people can stare at them as they sit in cages.

Zoos are for show, plain and simple. You can see the animals are unhappy based on their behaviour, and unfortunately they develop mental illnesses. “Zoochosis” is a mental illness animals in captivity develop and it leads to disturbing and self-harming behaviours such as pacing, starvation and banging their heads against walls and glass, according to the anti animal cruelty organization PETA.

The goal of zoos is to put on a show and make money. In comparison, animal sanctuaries and conservation centres focus solely on protecting and supporting wildlife. These centres help in rehabilitating wounded animals until they are well enough to be released back into the wild. They care about the animals’ well being, unlike zoos.  From the Sloth sanctuary in Costa Rica to our very own chimp sanctuary, Fauna Foundation, located near Carginan, QC, there are hundreds of specialized facilities for taking care of animals with staff who are trained to do so.

The China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda, for example, helps with the reproduction of the once-endangered giant panda, with the goal to successfully releasing them safely back into the wild, according to National Geographic. According to the director Zhang Hemin, the centre’s most important goals have been panda breeding and making sure “there’s a good habitat to then put the pandas in.” The animals that can’t be released into the wild have a safe environment to live in—one that mimics their natural habitat—and they receive special care when needed.

Rather than a zoo, whose prime goal is to make money, a sanctuary or conservation centre works to educate the public and rehabilitate animals, without endangering or harming them. It’s vital that we think about the harm and damage zoos cause to animals who deserve to live freely in their natural habitats.

Zoos are sad and unethical. Seeing these incredible creatures locked up in these small cages, pens and tanks—where they are forced to live until they die—is heartbreaking. It’s a miserable life, and they deserve better. So next time you go on a day trip to the zoo to check out the wildlife, look at their faces, watch their behaviour and remember that that’s not how animals are meant to live. Think twice about giving your money to facilities that don’t care about the animals they are responsible for.

Music Quickspins

Ed Sheeran – “Shape of You” & “Castle on the Hill”

Ed Sheeran – “Shape of You” & “Castle on the Hill” (Asylum & Atlantic Records, 2017)

Ed Sheeran has dropped two singles from his newest album, Divide, to be released March 3. “Shape of You,” already playing on the radio, embodies a different style than Sheeran’s usual calm and soulful melodies. The single has more of a pop sound and, although it’s missing depth and emotion in its lyrics, it is a catchy song. The lyrics describe falling for a woman in a bar and a would-be chase. There is a lack of sincerity in the lyrics—Sheeran’s past music focused on storytelling and relatable emotions. “Castle on the Hill” is more reminiscent of Sheeran’s usual style, and raw emotion is heard as he sings the chorus. He tells a detailed story from his youth, and his calm, smooth voice resonates in your ears. Both songs are worth listening to, although fans may not appreciate Sheeran’s attempt to branch out. We’ll be keeping our ears open for his new album.


Trial Track: “Castle on the Hill”


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