Judge refuses injunction request from Montreal caleche drivers ahead of deadline

MONTREAL — A judge refused a last-minute effort by Montreal caleche drivers seeking to save their industry, ruling on Friday against an emergency injunction request to stop new city rules from coming into effect that put an end to horse-drawn carriage rides.

The carriage-horse owners and drivers went to court this week in an attempt to put off an impending city-imposed ban that’s been 16 months in the making.

But Quebec Superior Court Justice Michel A. Pinsonnault ruled their request came too late, and they failed to demonstrate the criteria necessary for an emergency injunction, noting they’d known since the bylaw was adopted in August 2018 that this was coming.

The city’s ban goes into effect on New Year’s Day, effectively ending the popular horse-drawn tourist rides long a staple in Old Montreal.

Mayor Valerie Plante said the court decision made it official that Dec. 31 will mark the end of horse-drawn carriages in the city.

“This decision confirms that our bylaw is fair and sound,” Plante wrote on Twitter. ”Our administration made a promise and we delivered. Montreal is an animal-friendly city.”

The city has defended its efforts to phase out the industry, noting the ban came about after several incidents — including horses collapsing — that were caught on video and widely shared.

It gave the industry a full year to prepare for the transition and has offered to pay owners $1,000 per horse to retire their animals.

But caleche owners on Friday vowed to continue their legal fight, and Pinsonnault did note the case brought by the group deserved to be heard on its merits.

Luc Desparois, the owner of the city’s largest caleche stable, said he was disappointed with the outcome.

“We’ve been living that for a year and four months now — the threat of the city destroying our lives, destroying our business,” Desparois said. “We didn’t dare do it any quicker because if we did, we’d have the city on our back.”

Desparois said they also had to raise the needed funds to mount a case and maintained there’s no evidence the horses in the industry are mistreated.

Lawyer Audi Gozlan, who represented the horse owners, said the judge’s ruling that the matter should’ve been dealt with more promptly was a matter or perspective.

“Our perspective is that the order was coming into effect 12 days from now and it was urgent,” Gozlan said. “The war is not over, the litigation continues.”

Gozlan said he hopes to be back in a courtroom again in a few weeks seeking another injunction ahead of a hearing on the merits that will examine whether the city has the right to simply eliminate an industry where people have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“We’re not giving up, we’re continuing and we’re going to make sure that justice is served for the plaintiffs,” Gozlan told reporters. “The judge said clearly the question of law is extremely serious.”

Desparois said at the very least, they’ll seek better compensation for drivers.

“Worst comes to worst, we’re going to try to get money for our permits,” Desparois said. “We want to try to keep working because we don’t find it’s right to get us out of Old Montreal.”

The Montreal SPCA, which has long campaigned for an end to such tours, welcomed Friday’s ruling.

“We hope that horse owners will make the responsible and compassionate decision to enrol their animals in our placement program in order to provide them with the peaceful retirement they deserve after years of service,” the organization said in a statement.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 20, 2019.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press

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