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Horses on horse farm

Impact of COVID-19 on equine farms and facility operations

Friday, April 03, 2020 @ 12:18 PM | By Breanna Young

Breanna Young %>
Breanna Young
The global COVID-19 pandemic has brought great concern and uncertainty to many industries across Canada. Interestingly, COVID-19 has nuanced implications for Canadian equine farms and equestrian facilities. These operations must find the balance between: 1) being required by the government of Ontario to close as a result of the declaration of the state of emergency, and 2) remaining open as an essential business that provides for the health and welfare of animals.

On March 17, the government of Ontario announced that it was declaring a state of emergency under s. 7.0.1(1) of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (the Act). Further to this, the government required all facilitates providing indoor recreational programs to close immediately. Lesson and coaching programs fall squarely into this category.

Further to the declaration of an emergency, the government of Ontario released a list of essential businesses that are authorized to stay open during this time. Businesses that provide for the health and welfare of animals, including veterinarians, farms, boarding kennels, stables, animal shelters, zoos, aquariums, research facilities and other service providers are allowed to remain open.

In light of this, the question for many equine farm and equestrian operations is how are they able to comply with the government orders, which may carry with it steep penalties and continue to provide necessary care for horses, as required by law.

Under the Act, the penalties for breaching the essential workplaces order can include severe monetary fines of up to $100,000 for individuals or up to $500,000 for a director of a corporation and a term of imprisonment of not more than one year for both (s. 7.0.11). The penalties under the Act can be changed at any time by way of regulation.

The National Farm Animal Care Council Code of Practice (the Animal Care Code) mandates a minimum standard of care to ensure the adequate feeding, care and movement of equines. Any requirements under the Animal Care Code represent the minimum standards of care and those who fail to adhere to the requirements may be compelled to undertake corrective measures. These requirements may also be enforceable under federal or provincial regulation.

In order to assist equine farms and equestrian facility operations to adhere to the government order but still maintain a minimum standard of care for horses, Equestrian Canada and Ontario Equestrian have released some guidance on these nuanced implications of COVID-19. 

On March 20, Equine Canada and the Provincial/Territorial Sport Organizations recommended that all facilities that host equestrian-related activities, including but not limited to boarding stables and lesson barns, cease public-facing and non-essential activities. In order to ensure adequate feeding, care and movement of equines, facility owners should only allow personnel needed to take care of the facilities and the horses on the premises.

Essential personnel include facility owners, facility managers, equine caretakers, providers of equine-related essential services such as veterinarians and farriers, and boarders or owners providing equine related minimum standards of care. Non-essential personnel such as students, friends, family, the public and boarders or owners not providing equine-related minimum standards of care should remain off the premises.

In order to support businesses during these challenging times, the government of Canada announced a Temporary Business Wage Subsidy which, upon royal assent, will allow employers who have experienced a 30 per cent reduction in gross revenue to apply to receive up to 75 per cent of its employees’ wages to help keep them on the payroll.

For businesses who are struggling with cash flow, Equestrian Canada recommends that facility owners contact the leading agricultural financial lending institutions or Farm Credit Canada, the largest agricultural term lender in Canada, to inquire about the financial support options available to them during these troubling times.

Breanna Young is an articling student at Torkin Manes LLP in Toronto and she obtained her juris doctor from the University of Ottawa in 2019.

Photo credit / volgariver ISTOCKPHOTO.COM

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