One of the largest agricultural fairs in Canada has been publicly scrutinized by animal welfare activists for one of its longstanding traditions, the pig and calf scramble.
Event organizers pulled the plug on the activity after a national animal law group called Animal Justice, along with the Winnipeg Humane Society, called on the fair to cancel.
“They cause intentional fear and distress to animals, all in the name of entertainment,” Kaitlyn Mitchell, a staff lawyer with Animal Justice, says.
The scramble sees children and teens chase and catch pigs and calves to remove a halter off their neck. It’s an activity that Animal Justice calls illegal.
“If you look at some jurisdictions, their laws explicitly say pig scrambles are unlawful. Manitoba’s laws doesn’t do that admittedly, but what it does say is that you cannot cause distress and anxiety to animals unless it’s reasonable or generally accepted,” says Mitchell.
Event organizers did not respond to multiple requests from Global News for an interview. In a Facebook post they called the legality of the event a “grey area”.
The post continues by saying because it is a formal complaint that was filed, the Manitoba Chief Veterinarian Officer had to investigate the matter.
After reviewing, they found probable cause to initiate a formal inquiry. If organizers were to proceed with the scramble, the post says it’s possible the Manitoba government could send an animal protection officer to observe and could face fines, animal seizures or legal prosecution.
Ultimately, event organizers decided to cancel.
The Winnipeg Humane Society hopes this will be permanent decision moving forwad.
“We really have to start looking at these events from the animals’ perspective and evaluate for ourselves whether or not it is warranted to put an animal through such an amount of distress and discomfort purely for entertainment purposes,” Brittany Semenuik, an animal welfare specialist with the Winnipeg Humane Society, says.
A provincial spokesperson told Global News that Manitoba Agriculture’s chief veterinary officer and veterinary members of his team met with representatives of the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair to better understand the scramble events. They discussed concerns raised by some organizations and spoke about the duty of fair officials to protect animals from harm during the event to comply with the Animal Care Act.
“The proactive decision made by the Provincial Exhibition of Manitoba to cancel the calf and pig scrambles at the 2022 Royal Manitoba Winter Fair was based on its own assessment of its ability to comply with the act,” a provincial spokesperson told Global News on Tuesday.
“As Manitoba is a province with significant livestock production, animal health and welfare is of critical importance for economic growth as the humane treatment of domestic farmed animals is a public trust marker by which agriculture is judged.”