Family of animal rights activist Regan Russell calls for a provincial inquest

The family of Regan Russell, a Hamilton animal rights activist, is calling for a coroner's inquest after she was killed outside a Burlington slaughterhouse last month.

Toronto Pig Save held a rally in downtown Toronto Friday

Activists covered themselves in fake blood at a Justice for Regan rally in Toronto Friday. (Jonathan Castell/CBC)

The family of Regan Russell is calling for a coroner's inquest after she was killed outside a Burlington slaughterhouse last month.

Russell, a Hamilton animal rights activist, was giving water to pigs crammed into a transport truck trailer headed into Fearman's Pork Inc. on June 19. Toronto Pig Save video taken moments before her death shows her standing at the corner, waiting to give water to the pigs.

Shane Martinez, a lawyer for Toronto Pig Save, says an inquest would give a full picture of what happened to Russell, and also aim to keep people safe at future protests.

"There are a lot of questions still out there," he said. "We believe there was video that captured the entire incident. We haven't had a chance to see that video yet. We believe it's in the possession of the police."

The activists, he said, "were exercising their charter rights." He wants to know if appropriate action was taken to prevent an incident like the one that killed Russell, and "what led up to it in the months and years of these vigils taking place."

Animal rights activists marched from the CBC headquarters on Front Street in Toronto to Queen's Park. (Jonathan Castell/CBC)

The call comes on the same day the Toronto Pig Save group held a Justice for Regan rally in downtown Toronto.

The group marched from Front Street to Queen's Park. Rally participants protested the so-called "ag-gag" Bill 156, which creates "animal protection zones" that prohibits animal rights activists from "interfering or interacting with the farm animals in the motor vehicle."

The bill also increases fines for anyone caught trespassing on farms or food processing plants, and effectively prevents surreptitious recordings.

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

Anita Krajnc, founder of Toronto Pig Save, wants to see the opposite — a "Regan Bill of Animal Rights."

Such a bill, Krajnc told the crowd at Queen's Park, would "protect the right of protesters to protest in safety, defend whistleblowers, recognize the personhood of pigs and other animals, and replace meat subsidies with subsidies to transition our food system to a completely vegan, plant-based one."

Russell, 65, was a long-time animal rights activist who spoke on the subject at local schools. She was a regular participant of the vigils at Fearman's.

The activists laid down on the street, covered in fake blood. (Jonathan Castell/CBC)

Her death has gained worldwide attention from animal rights activists, including actor Joaquin Phoenix. At least three piglets in animal sanctuaries have been named after her — two by PETA and one by Sunrise Sanctuary Inc. in Ohio. 

"It certainly helps the family in our grief," said Russell's husband, Mark Powell.

The goal of a coroner's inquest, says stepson Josh Powell, is "to make sure public is fully aware" of what happened to Russell, and so "a public jury can then make recommendations to prevent such an incident from happening again.

Regan Russell regularly participated in Toronto Pig Save vigils outside the Burlington slaughterhouse. The group "bears witness" to the pigs' final moments. (Toronto Pig Save)

"It's a strike against all of us, and I would hope that today amplified that."

Anandi Naipaul of Ross and McBride is representing the family. CBC News is pursuing comment from Sofina Foods, the parent company of Fearman's Pork Inc.

Halton Police Service says it continues to investigate.


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