Regan Russell's family frustrated with delays in case of driver charged with her death

A truck driver charged with careless driving causing death was due to have his first day in court Monday, but it was delayed.

Halton police charged the driver with a provincial traffic offence

Mark Powell, widower of animal rights activist Regan Russell, holds the shirt she was wearing when she died. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Mark Powell is standing outside a Burlington courthouse, and he's holding the shirt his wife was wearing when she died.

It's a black T-shirt with "Respect All Life" in red letters, and an image of a human fist-bumping an animal. The front of the shirt is shredded. The back is ripped away all together.

This happened, Powell says, when his wife, animal rights activist Regan Russell, was dragged and killed by a transport truck outside Fearman's Pork Inc. in Burlington. A Brussels Transport driver is charged with careless driving under the Highway Traffic Act. He was due to make a first appearance in a Burlington Provincial Offences Act court Monday, but a justice of the peace was absent, so it's been delayed.

"For them, it's another day at the office, but not for this family," said Powell, of Hamilton, near about 30 activists at the courthouse Monday.

Animal rights activists hold a banner memorializing Regan Russell outside a Burlington courthouse. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Joshua Powell, Russell's step son, said he's "extremely disappointed" by the delay.

"It's already been 454 days," he said. "Now we've got to wait yet again, and as we all know, this system is very slow. I'm expecting another 60 to 90 days of sitting on my hands waiting for something important to happen."

Russell's death has galvanized animal rights activists, and made more visible the battle between activists and drivers outside Fearman's Pork Inc.

Toronto Pig Save, part of the now-international Save movement, has been holding weekly vigils outside the slaughterhouse the last few years. As transport trucks pull up with loads of pigs, the activists approach the trucks and give water to the animals, an homage to Leo Tolstoy's philosophy of bearing witness to suffering. 

Farmers and drivers, meanwhile, say the activists are unreasonable, aggressive and disrupting the food chain.

Regan Russell often attended demonstrations at a Burlington, Ont. slaughterhouse. (Toronto Pig Save)

"With a hundred-thousand-pound piece of equipment turned into a driveway, there's a lot of blind spots," Tyler Jutzi, co-owner of Brussels Transport, said last year. The company has raised $106,000 for the driver's legal and mental health needs.

"If the driver turns in and hurts someone, we've seen the consequences. We need to have no one in traffic, none of them surrounding the trailer."

"We have no objection to protesters. They have their right to voice their minds, but they need to do it safely."

Russell, 65, was giving water to pigs on June 19, 2020, the day she became trapped under the vehicle. Since then, the activists have held high-profile demonstrations and called for Ontario's Bill 156 to be repealed.

If convicted, the 28-year-old North Perth man faces a sentence that ranging from a fine to two years in jail. Russell's supporters have called on police to upgrade the charge, but Halton police say there's no evidence that the driver had criminal intent. 

Mark Powell says he's just eager to see a resolution. 

"This is the first day of really seeing how justice for Regan is going to unfold," he said. "We've been seeking justice for Regan from 10:21 [a.m.] the day she was struck. A minute later."

With files from Allison Devereaux