If protesters continue to impede the the horse-drawn carriages this summer, the Sentineal family will do what it can to protect their business.
Laura Sentineal of Sentineal Carriages says she has sought legal advice and learned there are actions that can be taken, and she plans to pursue those options, but going the legal route will be expensive.
Last year, a group called At War for Animals Niagara (AWFAN) spent many weekends in the Old Town protesting the use of horses to pull the Sentineal carriages — they campaign against “speciesism,” or the use of animals by humans for their own purposes.
A group of counter-protesters was formed called Locals for Carriages, and the business began receiving strong support from the community, said Sentineal.
During the height of the protesting, she was able to counter the notion that there was any issue of animal welfare — the Sentineals treat their horses like family, and any complaint of ill treatment from the protesters, such as horses in pain from walking on hot pavement or not being given enough water, were proven to be false, said Sentineal.
Then the AWFAN people moved on to filming the carriages for traffic violations, and shouting at carriage drivers and tourists trying to enjoy a pleasant experience, which became not only a nuisance but intimidating and even dangerous in traffic, she said.
The winter has been quiet, said Sentineal, with the exception of a protest at the icewine festival on Queen Street.
“The protesting of events really got to me,” said Sentineal.
As concerned as she is for her own business, she is also worried about the effect it has on the town.
“Everyone has worked so hard to create this elegant, wonderful place to come, for couples, for families, or for a wedding,” she said.
The protesters’ intimidating tactics are having an impact on town branding. “They’re holding the town hostage.”
From a business perspective, “we’re scraping out a living,” she said, but the nature of having horses is that any money they make goes back into looking after the animals, and while she said that’s to be expected, “we’ve come to a fork in the road. We’ve spoken to a lawyer, got some advice and there are things we can do, but it takes a lot of money.”
The police have been involved in the protests to some extent, but there wasn’t a lot they could do — federal legislation protects the right of people to protest.
The Locals for Carriages group is organizing a fundraiser to help pay for legal costs, said Sentineal, and the community has been “so supportive. They want the protestors to be gone. They want the horse and carriages to stay. Businesses have been so generous. But for me what is so heart-warming is the people who stop and talk to me all the time. They are so incredibly supportive.”
If the protestors have their way and put an end to the horse-drawn carriages in town, she said, they would just turn their attention to something else — it could be stopping the sale of meat, eggs or cheese, or stores selling leather — nothing would be safe.
“At the end of the day we believe in freedom of choice, and they want to take away our choice.”
The fundraiser is a pasta and trivia night, to be held May 11 from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. at the Royal Canadian Legion Hall, and although tickets are not available yet, they will go quickly, said Sentineal. She advises following the Locals for Carriages Facebook page for details about tickets.
“Everyone’s welcome. There will be lots of amazing prizes, and it’s going to be a great evening. It’s been wonderful to have support, thanks to the good grace of the people who live and work here — we feel that more than ever now. People have really amped up their support. They’re very verbal about it. That really, really helps us get through the bad days, and makes the good days even better.”