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Jonathan van der Veen
Heterodox Contrarian

Is this the End of the Kosher Butchering Industry in Canada

In recent years, Canada has found itself embroiled in a contentious debate over the practice of kosher and halal butchering as these ancient religious customs clash with modern secular views on animal welfare.

The crux of the issue lies in the method of slaughter prescribed by kosher laws. According to the Jewish tradition (shechita), the animal must be killed by swiftly severing its carotid arteries with a sharp knife, ensuring a quick and humane death. Proponents argue that this method minimizes suffering, as the animal loses consciousness rapidly due to a sudden drop in blood pressure. Critics contend that without prior stunning, as is mandated in conventional slaughterhouses, the animal may experience pain during the process.

This issue in Canada does not exist in a vacuum. Across Europe, a nearly identical debate has occurred over the religious slaughter of livestock. Just this February, a European Union Court struck down an appeal against a ban on kosher slaughter, thereby enforcing the ban across most of Belgium. Many EU nations have also implemented restrictions on both Kosher (Jewish) and halal (Muslim) slaughter, sparking legal battles and raising questions about religious liberties: Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, and Slovenia all have bans on ritual slaughter.

Since 1959, Canadian Jews have had their rights to kosher butchery enshrined into law by then Prime Minister John Diefenbaker’s government, which passed the ‘Humane Slaughter of Food Animals Act,’ where they listed shechita as a humane method of slaughter. However, in 2018, the Canadian government made an about-face and introduced new food safety regulations into CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) in which the requirements for humane slaughter included the directive that animals must be stunned before they are killed. These CFIA guidelines began to be enforced last summer. If successfully implemented, the regulations would effectively end Kosher butchery, as shechita prohibits the stunning of animals.

Now –as some old regulations have come into effect, and new ones are being proposed– Jewish communities, advocacy groups, and Rabbis have been sounding the alarm, raising the issue to the national forefront, as the debate has quickly escalated into a lawsuit over perceived infringements of Canadians’ Charter Rights to religious freedom.

While some argue that kosher butchering is cruel and outdated, others contend that it is a fundamental aspect of religious practice that must be safeguarded. Shechita is an ancient practice that is essential to Jewish dietary laws. The slaughtering of animals in a specific manner is prescribed by religious tradition to make it suitable for consumption. The bloody deed may seem barbaric, but advocates of kosher butchering argue that when performed correctly by trained individuals, it is no more painful than conventional methods of slaughter, including the common method of stunning before the animal is killed.

Nevertheless, there have been increasing concerns over animal welfare, prompting some Canadian provinces to implement full bans or restrictions/regulations on the ancient practice. Quebec and British Columbia have introduced legislation requiring animals to be stunned before slaughter; however, the kosher industry remained in a state of limbo, foregoing collapse so long as there were pending lawsuits appealing the decision. The government had not fully implemented or enforced its own regulations until the summer of 2023.

These laws are framed from a moral perspective as legislative attempts to uphold and elevate animal welfare standards. Additionally, some critics raise concerns about the lack of transparency and oversight in kosher slaughter facilities, which they fear could lead to instances of the industry making false promises and then backsliding into noncompliance with the “humane standards” set.

However, for Canada’s Jewish community, these bans represent an infringement on their religious rights. Shechita is a fundamental aspect of Jewish dietary laws, and any deviation from the prescribed method renders the meat non-kosher, thereby unfit for consumption by observant Jews. The restrictions not only impede religious observance but also pose economic challenges for kosher meat producers and suppliers.

The debate surrounding kosher butchering encapsulates broader tensions between religious freedom and secular governance. While Canada prides itself on being a multicultural and inclusive society that respects religious diversity, it also upholds principles of animal welfare and ethical treatment. Balancing these competing interests is no easy task.

There have been some provincial attempts to institute tight regulatory controls in lieu of an outright ban, but compromise has left both sides unhappy. While in those instances the Kosher industry avoided a full ban, complaints persist that special checks on Kosher butchery are unfairly holding them to artificially higher standards and restrictions than the rest of the livestock industry. These added steps and measures introduced through the government’s regulations have also proven to be financially burdensome as they lower efficiency. On the flip side, animal rights activists abhor the practice fundamentally, so implementing a check regime has not completely pacified them.

Perhaps overlooked, there are also secondary and tertiary effects at play when considering a Kosher butchery ban. The immediate effect, of course, would be the complete and total shutdown of what still remains of the kosher industry domestically. Yet, has anyone thought about what happens next? Will people stop eating Kosher food? What is most likely to occur is that those who keep Kosher will simply continue to source Kosher products from overseas producers, who already supply a vast majority of the Kosher products consumed within Canada. This, in turn, creates a class issue within the community of who can and cannot afford to import foreign Kosher alternatives as domestic rapidly vanish.

Paradoxically, the standards placed on imported Kosher products are not adhered to as intensely as with domestic products. Therefore, we may simply end up replacing a cheaper domestic product, whose quality our government may oversee and regulate, with a more expensive product of possibly inferior quality.

The legality of the bans has been challenged in court, with proponents of kosher butchering arguing that they violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees freedom of religion. In 2021, the Supreme Court of Canada agreed to hear a case challenging Quebec’s ban on kosher butchering, signalling the significance of the issue at the national level. The outcome of this case is likely to have far-reaching implications for religious minorities in Canada and the broader debate over the balance between animal welfare and religious freedom.

Unable or unwilling to comply with what will effectively end up being an outright ban on kosher production in the country, many Jewish organizations have organized a lawsuit, which has been filed against the federal government. They include prominent groups such as The Kashruth Council of Canada, the Jewish Community Council of Montreal, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, and others. The lawsuit alleges that the required regulations are damaging the kosher product economy and that “Since these new guidelines have gone into effect, the amount of kosher meat produced in Canada has decreased dramatically.” As a result, they allege that Kosher imports (currently being used to alleviate domestic production shortfalls) are untenable over the long run.

Regardless of the outcome, the Kosher industry is devastated. Even if they can avoid an outright ban, the number of kosher meat facilities in the country halved between August 2022 and January 2023, from 6 to 3, taking with them half of all domestic Kosher beef production.

The debate has become much more than just about the preparation of food. The issue has expanded, testing the durability of Canada’s Charter Rights to religious freedom, with the 2018 CFIA guidelines setting a dangerous precedent that could threaten other religious dietary practices in the future.

But what can we do about it? Herzlia Rabbi, Yosef Benarroch, notes that “A lot of people are very upset, but there is no plan by the community in Winnipeg. In Montreal, they have taken legal proceedings <against the government>. “It is a very serious blow to Kosher consumers in Canada and insensitive to Jewish-Canadian Citizens,” he adds.

About the Author
I did my BA at Mount Allison University in Canada, studying History & Political Science. Thereafter, I began to pursue a degree in Journalism but took a hiatus from school to accept numerous job offers. I got my start in writing working for ERETZ: the Magazine of Israel in Tel Aviv, Israel. From my homeland Canada I have been published by both the National Post, and Jewish Post & News. The paper I currently write for and help publish is The Jewish Post -the successor to the now defunct paper: The Jewish Post & News. As a researcher and writer, I believe that applying historical context along with an in-depth knowledge of regional identity and political ideologies is the best way to identify and explain current geopolitical trends as well as forecast growing tension and unrest in future areas of conflicts -militarily, politically, and economically.
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