'Terrifying and sinister': Jann Arden on the export of thousands of Canadian horses to be slaughtered for meat

The morning after being honoured for her music, artist, actress and activist Jann Arden spoke to CTV News about an entirely different Canadian export.

Arden, who was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame at the Junos Sunday night, joined CTV Morning Live to speak about something some activists call cruel and inhumane.

Canada is one of the world's largest suppliers of horse meat, with thousands of animals exported each year. These horses are shipped out of the country to be slaughtered then served at high-end restaurants around the world.

For Arden, who's been involved with horses for decades, the cause is personal, and one she's been involved in for some time.

"I was very outspoken about the culling of wild horses on the eastern slopes in Alberta, which still goes on because of forestry, because of the petroleum industry. They round up a bunch of horses and they slaughter them," she said in an interview from Calgary Monday morning.

The horsemeat industry was brought to her attention a couple of years ago by her veterinarian, she said.

As Arden tells it, the vet told her large draft horses are being bred in feed lots in Alberta and Manitoba by a handful of farmers. She said this group then flies as many as 90 of the horses per week to a small island in Japan.

"At the very beginning of this stuff, they used to FedEx them," she said.

FedEx said no, after a time, citing ethical reasons, Arden said. Most of the flights are now run through a Korean airline, according to the singer.

Arden describes the process as, "four large horses put into wooden crates - they're crapping all over each other, they are terrified… they often fall on each other. They often arrive dead."

She said the horses are shipped live because their meat is eaten raw as part of a dish called bashimi. She likened the price to Kobe beef.

"It's a terrifying and sinister little part of Canadian agriculture," Arden said.

"I know there's a lot of terrible things going on in the world – I know there is. This is another one of them that we can actually stop… Canadians just have to rise up, sign their name to a petition, and we have a very good chance of ending the live export of horses to Japan." 

Arden said she knows people are sick of petitions, but said she believes the petition put forward by the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition has a chance at making a difference.

The CHDC is also pushing for a ban of the consumption of horsemeat in Canada, and previously sued the Canadian Food Inspection Agency over the shipment of live horses for slaughter and consumption. The group lost its lawsuit against the CFIA in 2019.

In this case, the petition to ban the shipment of live horses is sponsored by a member of Parliament, MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, meaning with 100,000 signatures, it can be presented in the House.

"That's powerful. It really is," she said.

"Canada has to decide, 'Are we horse people, or are we the biggest supplier of horsemeat on the planet?'"

She said the practice used to be common south of the border, too, but Americans stopped the export because of petitions. Still, she said, the horses are often sent to Canada for slaughter and to be shipped overseas.

She said the fight isn't actually about horsemeat itself – "eat what you want to eat."

"It is really about the humane and fair and ethical treatment of these animals that have carried us, plowed our fields, fought in wars, comforted our children. These animals are used for compassionate means in therapy all the time… and yet some of them do that, and some of them, we just feel like they're garbage."

In addition to Arden's petition, a B.C.-based campaign has a similar goal.

The BC SPCA says Canada is one of the few countries left in the world that ships horses for meat, estimating more than 40,000 animals have been exported in the last eight years. Under recently-updated transport laws, horses can be shipped without feed, water or rest for up to 28 hours.

The society has is also collecting signatures to present to Ottawa. 

In her interview Monday, Arden also spoke about being honoured at the Juno Awards, including what her induction into the hall of fame means to her.

"It's certainly an accumulation of time… It's kind of a really cool award to get, because it's not about being 'best of,' or the top song of the year or the greatest singer," she said.

"This is something that feels, actually, really comfortable and really cool and really awesome, because it's just about time. It's about putting in your time, it's about paying your dues, it's about singing in the bars, and that you're still standing at the end of it."

She called it "fantastic" to be in the company of so many of her idols, who've already been recognized.

Watch the full interview above.