Notorious Dog Sled Facility Loses Defamation Case

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Windrift Adventures—a dog sledding operation in Ontario with a troubling history of animal cruelty—has lost a lawsuit it brought against journalists and animal advocates, marking a win for animals, freedom of expression, and a blow against dog sledding.

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In November 2023, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice dismissed a defamation lawsuit filed by Windrift Adventures against CTV-Bell Media and various individuals. The lawsuit was in response to a CTV W5 investigative program episode in 2022 called “Dogs in Distress,” which highlighted concerns about the treatment of dogs at Windrift’s facilities, and featured interviews with the BC SPCA, animal welfare experts, and animal advocates.

The court dismissed the lawsuit under Ontario’s anti-SLAPP laws. Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) are commonly used by corporations and wealthy individuals to target advocates who speak up against them, and intimidate them into remaining silent. In 2015, Ontario passed new laws aimed at dismissing SLAPP suits more quickly, so that public expression can more easily continue without the threat of abusive litigation.

The court held that the issue of dog sledding is a matter of public interest, that it was “questionable” that Windrift had suffered any harm from the episode, and that the defendants had valid defences. Ultimately, the court was concerned that allowing Windrift’s suit to continue would harm expression and public participation in discussions about dog sledding.

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Animal Justice is pleased that Ontario’s anti-SLAPP law is protecting expression on matters of public interest, especially in cases involving animal cruelty and media freedom.

Screenshots of dogs in distress from viral footage captured at Windrift Adventures.
Credit: Natasha Guerriero | Facebook

Windrift Goes Viral Over Suffering Dogs

In 2018, Windrift made national headlines after visitors filmed distressing footage of dogs kept on short chains with inadequate housing, and a dog limping with an injury.

In February 2021, Ontario’s Animal Welfare Services (AWS) conducted several inspections and issued compliance orders, including providing proper care and shelter to the dogs at Windrift. But Windrift failed to comply with the orders, which led authorities to seize over 200 dogs from the facility.

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In 2022, Windrift lost an appeal before the Divisional Court in Ontario after it applied for judicial review over the seizure. The court supported AWS’s actions, noting the obvious distress of the dogs and the likelihood of continued distress if the dogs were returned to Windrift. Windrift has also been ordered to pay $505,760 to the government for the removal and care of the dogs.

In November 2023, the Court dismissed Windrift’s application for leave to appeal the removal order. The facility has also sought leave to appeal the decision ordering it to pay boarding and other costs associated with the dogs who were removed. The Court of Appeal has yet to decide whether to allow the second appeal over costs.

Pervasive Sled Dog Cruelty in Canada

Dog sledding is a popular tourist attraction in Canada, but behind the ride is a lifetime of suffering. Sled dogs live their lives outdoors on short chains in all weather extremes, with only wooden crates or plastic barrels as shelter. These social beings are denied the opportunity to social, play, and roam free, and are forced to eat, sleep, and defecate in the tiny area where they’re tied up.

The dog sledding industry is unregulated, and the industry continues to get away with harming countless dogs in the name of profit, often far away from public view. But thanks to the investigative efforts of CTV’s W5 and the ‘Sled Dogs‘ documentary, the harsh realities of dog sledding are gaining public attention. These exposés are crucial in raising awareness and pushing for change.

Join Animal Justice in advocating for stronger legal protections for sled dogs! Dogs deserve kindness and compassion, not a miserable life at the end of a chain.

Banner: Natasha Guerriero | Facebook

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