Victoria horse carriage tour operators threaten lawsuit if ban proceeds
Victoria's horse-drawn carriage tour operators say they're prepared to launch a lawsuit against the city if it moves ahead with a proposal to phase out such tours by 2023.
The motion, put forward by Coun. Ben Isitt, called horse-drawn carriages an "outmoded form of transportation in our 21st-century city" and suggested they be replaced by electronic carriages.
Isitt asked the city to amend its strategic plan for 2019-2022 to include the proposal to take horse-drawn carriages off city streets. The motion passed 5-3 at a Thursday Committee of the Whole meeting. If council votes the same way, city staff will be asked to report back to council in September on whether to proceed with the ban. It was opposed by Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe and Coun. Geoff Young.
Victoria's horse-carriage industry immediately fired back, saying the motion ignored facts.
On Tuesday, Tally-Ho Carriage Tours and Victoria Carriage Tours threatened a legal fight in which they'd seek millions of dollars in damages if the motion is ratified at a May 23 council meeting.
"Defamatory statements have consequences," said Tally-Ho owner Donna Friedlander. "We believe the motion being put forward…has already materially and permanently damaged the reputation and long-term value of our businesses."
Friedlander said council delaying its decision until September will cost the city time and money and will cause further damage to the horse-drawn carriage tour industry.
She said two companies are considering legal action because of the potential impact a ban would have to jobs and the horses themselves.
“If people really care about our horses, they should be more concerned about the strong likelihood there is no happy ending for draft horses that no longer have a job to support their care," she said.
When the motion was put forward, Isitt said it would encourage the industry to "work with the city in terms of what modernizing their fleet could look like."
The battle between councillors and the carriage industry comes after the BC SPCA issued a number of recommendations to Victoria tour operators.
The organization initially recommended an outright ban on horse-carriage tours on city streets, but later changed to recommending a "solutions-based approach" that would protect horses from vehicle traffic and support public safety.
The companies say they have been heeding that advice, including limited horse-drawn vehicles to one horse per carriage.
A petition launched three years ago to ban carriage horses in Victoria has reached nearly 40,000 signatures.
A counter-petition also launched three years ago has been signed by more than 6,000 supporters. A pro-carriage tour rally is planned for Thursday at 5:30 p.m. outside Victoria City Hall.
CTV News has reached out to the City of Victoria for reaction to the carriage industry's news release.