Montreal reverses ban on horse-drawn carriages
In an apparent case of putting the cart before the horse, Mayor Denis Coderre has been forced to retreat on his ban of calèches in Montreal after a judge ruled the hastily announced measure overstepped the city's powers.
The ruling meant that horse-drawn carriages, a picturesque if controversial mainstay of Old Montreal, returned to the historic quarter on Wednesday after a ban lasting less than 48 hours. The lawyer for the carriage owners called it a David-and-Goliath victory against city hall.
Mr. Coderre's surprise one-year suspension of calèche permits proved to be one of the more contentious moves of the mayor's administration. Since it was announced last Wednesday, public opinion was polarized over whether the carriage trade constituted animal abuse or a charming piece of Montreal's heritage.
Many were critical that Mr. Coderre announced the moratorium at the start of the tourist season, depriving calèche drivers of their livelihoods without notice.
A group of owners went to court on Wednesday, and Superior Court Justice Kirkland Casgrain granted them a nine-day injunction. Their lawyer successfully argued the city had stripped Montreal's colourful cochers of their rights.
"This isn't a hobby, it's their living, they have families and bills to pay. And what would happen to the poor horses? Do we put them to sleep?" lawyer Audi Gozlan said in an interview after winning the injunction.
"This is a victory for the [calèche owners] and for the culture of Quebec. Calèche driving is a monument in Quebec, it's been around for hundreds of years."
Mr. Coderre said after the ruling that the city would not continue to fight the case in court, and the calèches could return to ply their trade this summer.
"Very clearly, the moratorium was not the right solution," Mr. Coderre said.
Mr. Coderre justified his move by saying the calèche industry was "negligent" and some owners have accumulated fines for mistreating their animals and keeping insalubrious conditions.
"If you want to be sure to change the industry you need an electroshock, and that's what I did," he said. "I love horses but I'm sad to see the way they're treated in some cases right now."
The mayor said the city would now introduce new regulations for the industry over the summer.
The Montreal SPCA expressed disappointment with the return of calèche industry, which it called "antiquated, inhumane, and unsafe," and urged supporters to send the mayor a letter seeking a permanent ban on its operations in Montreal.
Follow Ingrid Peritz on Twitter: @iperitz
MONTREAL — The Globe and Mail
Published Wednesday, May 25, 2016