Joaquin Phoenix speaks out about death of Regan Russell: 'We will never back down'

Oscar-winning actor Joaquin Phoenix has lent his voice to the crowd of animal rights activists calling for justice in the killing of Regan Russell, and the repeal of Bill 156.

The Joker actor has been photographed giving water to pigs outside a Los Angeles slaughterhouse

More than 200 people gathered for a day-long vigil outside Fearman's Pork Inc., where a protester was hit and killed by a transport truck on June 19. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Oscar-winning actor Joaquin Phoenix has lent his voice to the crowd of animal rights activists calling for justice in the killing of Regan Russell, and the repeal of Bill 156.

Phoenix attended a vigil outside a Los Angeles slaughterhouse on Thursday for Russell, a Hamilton woman who was hit by a transport truck full of pigs on June 19 in Burlington Ont. The actor, an outspoken animal rights activist who gives water to pigs in Los Angeles, was photographed holding a sign that said "#SavePigs4Regan." He also issued a statement.

"Regan Russell spent the final moments of her life providing comfort to pigs who had never experienced the touch of a kind hand," he said. "While her tragic death has brought upon deep sorrow in the Animal Save community, we will honour her memory by vigorously confronting the cruelties she fought so hard to prevent by marching with Black Lives, protecting Indigenous rights, fighting for LGBTQ equality, and living a compassionate vegan life.

"The Ontario government can attempt to silence us with the passage of its Ag-Gag bill – Bill 156 – but we will never go away and we will never back down. My heart goes out to the Toronto Animal Save community and to Regan's lifelong partner, Mark Powell."

Joaquin Phoenix and friend Michelle Cho hold signs during a vigil for Regan Russell at Farmer John Clougherty Packing Co. in Los Angeles. (Bobby Sud)

Phoenix's statement was read out to a crowd of more than 200 gathered at Fearman's Pork Inc. in Burlington on Sunday for a vigil, one week after Russell's death. Russell, 65, was a regular outside Fearman's, where she and others gave a last gulp of water to pigs in sweltering trailers before they were taken in to the slaughterhouse. Around 10:20 a.m. that day, Russell was somehow hit and killed by a truck.

Halton Regional Police's collision reconstruction unit is investigating.

Mark Powell, a west-end contractor and Russell's husband, was pleased with Phoenix giving a boost to the message. As a model, he said, Russell did that whenever possible.

"In her memory, we need to tell the world what we already know," he said. "It's our job to do her memory well."

Supporters are calling for a thorough investigation into Russell's death and the repeal of Bill 156. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) says it also persuaded an Iowa farmer to spare two pigs being sold for slaughter. PETA named them Regan and Russell, and has sent them to an animal sanctuary. 

Animal rights advocates are also calling on the province to repeal Bill 156, a so-called "ag-gag bill" which creates "animal protection zones" that prohibits animal rights activists from "interfering or interacting with the farm animals in the motor vehicle." It also increases fines for anyone caught trespassing on farmland and food processing plants, or anyone gaining access to a farm under "false pretences" — effectively making filming illegal.

The Security From Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act, 2019  was introduced in the Ontario legislature late last year. Agriculture Minister Ernie Hardeman said it's in response to complaints from farmers about animal rights groups trespassing on their private property. 

"It's our job to do her memory well," Russell's husband Mark Powell told the crowd outside the meat processing plant. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

The Ontario Federation of Agriculture rallied support for the bill, saying it "protects our farms, families, livestock and food supply" from increasingly aggressive tactics from animal rights groups.

"Ontario farms have come under increasing threat from trespassers and activists who illegally enter property, barns and buildings, breaching biosecurity protocols," president Keith Currie said in a June 12 media release

"Once peaceful protests have now escalated to trespassing, invasions, barn break-ins, theft and harassment."

A friend of Russell's, who identified herself only as "Vegan," was moved to tears on the stage. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)
Pig Save supporters wrote messages like "justice for Regan" on the spot where the 65-year-old was hit and killed. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)


Samantha Craggs is journalist based in Windsor, Ont. She is executive producer of CBC Windsor and previously worked as a reporter and producer in Hamilton, specializing in politics and city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca