MONTREAL — The opposition Parti Québécois and the new party Coalition Avenir Québec last week demanded that Quebec’s Charest government investigate the distribution of ritually slaughtered meat in the province.
Describing the practice as contrary to “Quebec values,” PQ agriculture critic André Simard, a veterinarian, on March 14 called on Agriculture Minister Pierre Corbeil to provide a full public accounting of Muslim halal and kosher slaughter by March 23.
On March 15, Premier Jean Charest underlined the need for strict assurances that any ritually slaughtered meat is labelled as such, but the government did not respond directly to the PQ’s demand.
Agriculture Minister Pierre Corbeil decried the PQ’s tone as “alarmist” and rejected claims of cruelty or lack of safety with regard to ritual slaughter. D'Arcy-McGee Liberal MNA Lawrence Bergman denounced the PQ for “odious ethnic bashing, between the lines.”
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) deplored the PQ’s raising of a “false problem”.
What triggered the issue were media reports that poultry slaughtered according to halal ritual at at least one meat processor was being sold to the public without being identified as such.
Simard said that the law permitting ritual slaughter is a federal one that “crashes headlong into Quebec values,” a claim that “outraged” CIJA.
“In Quebec, we have made the choice long ago to slaughter our animals for consumption by taking measures to anesthetize animals and to slaughter them by minimizing their suffering,” Simard said in a statement.
“In their great openness, Quebecers accept, as an exception, that religious communities can go ahead with slaughter according to their rituals. But, when the exception becomes the rule, there is a problem.” According to information he said he has, such practices are becoming more and more widespread.
Simard told the media elsewhere that halal or kosher slaughter may raise the risk of human disease, including the spread of E. coli bacteria.
CAQ leader François Legault said: “We are in Quebec and that [ritual slaughter] must be the exception.” CAQ shares the PQ’s concern to the extent that consumers have the right to know what they’re buying, he said.
Rabbi Reuben Poupko slammed the PQ for “trying to score cheap political points by exploiting the worst tendencies of Quebecers” when they fear their identity is threatened. The spiritual leader of Montreal’s Congregation Beth Israel-Beth Aaron also called it an “ignorant attack” and challenged shchitah’s critics to come to an abbatoir and witness what’s done there.
“It has been confirmed numerous times and in a variety of countries that kosher slaughter is beyond reproach. It is unfair to characterize shchitah as anything but the most humane method possible. It’s the quickest and most painless.
“In fact, western civilization owes a debt of gratitude to the tradition Jews bequeathed to the world of limiting cruelty to animals.”
The PQ is raising a baseless issue, at least with regard to Jewish slaughter, because kosher meat has been clearly identified and marketed as such for nearly a century in Quebec, said CIJA Quebec vice-president Luciano Del Negro in a March 16 statement. “To claim that it threatens to become the norm is strictly unfounded.”
He also said it is unacceptable to suggest kosher meat could be a health risk, because kosher slaughter conforms to the same governmental standards as any other method of slaughter.
In a letter to CIJA, CAQ immigration critic Benoît Charette acknowledged these points. “To claim that these practices lack transparency is, consequently, false,” he wrote.
Rabbi Saul Emanuel, the executive director of the Vaad Ha’ir, the main kashrut supervisory body in Quebec, which oversees the MK hechsher, thinks it’s impossible for meat or poultry slaughtered according to kashrut to make its way into the general market.
Meat or poultry destined for the kosher consumer is supervised constantly from the time of slaughter through the butchering and processing, he said.
Rabbi Schachar Orenstein of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue spoke at the annual convention of Quebec veterinarians last November about kosher slaughter. The professional order devoted a half-day session to ritual slaughter and also heard from one of its prominent opponents.
Rabbi Orenstein said he hopes Quebec won’t embark on a debate on banning such slaughter, as has taken place in some European countries, most recently France, and notably New Zealand.
Rabbi Orenstein, who is a vegetarian and an animal lover, said if Quebecers are opposed to ritual slaughter because they are concerned about animal welfare, he believes, a respectful dialogue is in order.
“However, I wonder if there is something else behind this initiative. My question is: what is the motivation for bringing this up now? I think that there are a lot of other more pressing issues, such as how livestock is raised and transported.”
The Muslim Council of Montreal, which represents 275,000 Muslims, condemned the “inflammatory culture war being instigated by” the PQ and certain Quebec media.
Spokesperson Salam Elmenyawi said that they are “seeking to create a mass hysteria and frenzy by deliberately twisting and misrepresenting the facts in this issue,” noting that halal slaughter is subject to the same safety controls as any other.
One Quebec politician who has spoken out against the attempt to make ritual slaughter a political football is Amir Khadir, the sole MNA for the sovereignist Québec solidaire, who is known for his anti-Israel statements and politics.
“I find it deplorable that the PQ is importing this debate launched in France by the Front National and is playing on the fears of the population. As a doctor, I have never seen a health problem linked to halal or kosher meat.”