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Restaurant guilty of ‘brutal dismemberment’ of lobster, animal-rights group charges

Cooked lobsters are removed from pots of boiling water at a Toronto restaurant in this 2014 file photo.

Matthew Sherwood/The Globe and Mail

An online video showing the cooking of a live lobster has landed a Toronto seafood restaurant at the centre of an animal-cruelty complaint.

According to Animal Justice in a complaint filed on Friday with the Ontario SPCA, the video depicts "brutal dismemberment," and is evidence of illegal cruelty towards animals. The group calls on the OSPCA to lay criminal charges against staff at lbs. restaurant in downtown Toronto, as well as at Eater.com, the website that produced and posted the video.

The video, titled "Eater's Top 5 Seafood," was shot for the popular U.S.-based food website and posted to its Facebook page earlier this month.

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The video opens with a cook holding up a giant, 13-pound lobster – its tail flicking water towards the camera. In the next shot, a cook removes the lobster's claws one by one. Then, the head and tail are pulled apart. The highly edited video does not show whether the lobster is stunned or killed any time in between.

But according to the complaint, "during each of these dismemberment scenes, the lobster's rear walking legs are moving, showing clearly that he is alive and conscious throughout the dismemberment." Animal Justice is known for holding animal-rights protests across the country, and has launched lawsuits in the past against companies such as parka maker Canada Goose.

In an e-mailed statement, lbs. owner Jonathan Gonsenhauser said the restaurant cooks lobsters in the most humane way possible. The restaurant, in Toronto's Financial District, has a lobster-focused menu featuring whole-steamed lobster with drawn butter, lobster salad and lobster rolls.

"Our policy is to end the life of the lobster in the most humane way possible, which is to insert a needle directly under the shell into the brain," he said. "Because nerve endings continue to move beyond end of life, at times we do see twitching."

Editors at Eater.com did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Scientists are divided on whether lobsters experience pain. A 2005 University of Oslo study concluded that lobsters are not likely capable of feeling pain. A 2013 study from Queen's University in Belfast found the opposite.

But Camille Labchuk, the executive director of Animal Justice, says there is no doubt based on the video that the animals are suffering. "Lobsters feel pain, and our laws must protect them from the worst forms of suffering," she said.

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The Animal Justice complaint specifically asks for the parties to be charged under the Criminal Code of Canada, which prohibits "causing unnecessary pain, suffering or injury to an animal." They also allege the actions in the video contravene the OSPCA Act, which prohibits "causing an animal to be in distress."

If the OSPCA, which is now tasked with investigating the complaint, decides to lay charges, it would be the first incident of its kind in Canada, Ms. Labchuk said.

It would also set legal parameters for the killing of live lobsters and other seafood. With land animals, slaughter is closely regulated and conducted in federally inspected abattoirs. The killing of live seafood, meanwhile, is governed in large part by culinary tradition.

For most chefs and home cooks in North America, the conventional method of killing lobsters is to throw them whole into boiling water, pierce the brain with something sharp or slice them in half quickly. But according to Ms. Labchuk, the most humane way of killing a lobster is to use an electric stunner.

The Animal Justice complaint is not entirely without legal precedent. Earlier this year, an Australian seafood company was convicted of animal cruelty for butchering and dismantling lobsters without stunning or killing them beforehand. That company was fined $1,500 (Australian, $1,518 Canadian).

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About the Author
National Food Reporter

Ann Hui is the national food reporter at The Globe and Mail. Previously, she worked as a national reporter and homepage editor for theglobeandmail.com and an online editor in News. More

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