Hamilton

Animal rights activists host vigils, protests around the world 1 year after death of Regan Russell

Animal rights activists around the globe gathered this weekend for memorials, vigils and demonstrations marking the death of Regan Russell.

'We have to stand where Regan can no longer stand,' says husband Mark Powell

An animal rights activist is ticketed outside Fearman's Pork Inc. in Burlington on Sunday, just over one year after Regan Russell died after being hit by a truck there. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Animal rights activists around the globe gathered this weekend for memorials, vigils and demonstrations marking the death of Regan Russell.

The 65-year-old Hamilton woman died when she was hit by a transport truck on June 19, 2020 while protesting outside Fearman's Pork Inc. in Burlington.

One year later, her stand has spread, with gatherings in Johannesburg, Brisbane, Mexico City and Portugal shared on the Facebook page for the Animal Save Movement, a group that "bears witness" when animals are sent to slaughterhouses.

"Being here is tough, but it's got to be done. We have to stand where Regan can no longer stand," said Russell's husband, Mark Powell, in a video recorded at the site where his wife died. 

In that video, which was shared on social media on Thursday, Powell encouraged people to be a "voice for the voiceless," and outlined a series of gatherings outside the plant throughout the weekend in memory of his wife and her cause.

Regan Russell was a regular attendee at demonstrations at a Burlington slaughterhouse. (Toronto Pig Save)

"She had been doing this for 43 years, getting Bristol board and magic marker and taking a stand. On June the 19th, well, it was her last stand," he said. "She can't be here any longer so we are."

Russell was protesting Bill 156, the Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act, which came into force just one day before she died. Police charged a man with careless driving.

The bill creates "animal protection zones" that prohibit animal rights activists from "interfering or interacting with the farm animals in the motor vehicle." 

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

In the year that's followed, regular demonstrations have continued to take place outside the Burlington plant, actor Joaquin Phoenix has shared his support and advocacy group Animal Justice has filed a constitutional challenge over the law.

A sign outlining Bill 156 hangs from the fence at the plant. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

On Sunday, Sabrina Desgagne, founder of a group called New Wave Activism, stood outside its gates along with roughly a dozen protesters.

Five police vehicles were parked nearby, and one member of the group was ticketed after trying to spray pigs, loaded on a truck and bound for the slaughterhouse, with water.

The $490 ticket, issued under Bill 156, states it's for interfering with a motor vehicle transporting farm animals.

Halton Regional Police said officers would remain on scene as long as demonstrators were present, but declined to comment further.

Desgagne said she's been handed two similar tickets herself over the past year, along with 10 for blocking a road.

Activists are waiting to see how the tickets are deal with in court, which could affect how they proceed in fighting the bill, she added.

"It's gotten worse for the animals," Desgagne said of the year since Bill 156 was passed, explaining that activists used to be able to stop trucks and give water to pigs.

Ribbons spelling out Russell's name fluttered from the plant's fence above bouquets and a poster stating "compassion shouldn't be a death sentence."

Trevor Miller, who was also taking part in the protest, said Russell's death had changed sparked change and deepened the commitment to fight the bill.

"A lot of the activists here started to become active due to situations around that time," he said.

Ribbons, flowers and posters hung from the fence outside the slaughterhouse. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

In a strange way the bill is also a "victory," Miller said, pointing to the handful of police vehicles parked outside the plant on Sunday as evidence the activists are being taken seriously.

"There are lots of reasons that we can potentially eliminate the ag-gag bill and that demonstrates more progress."

Desgagne said, despite the tickets, she and the other demonstrators plan to keep protesting every Sunday and continue to carry Russell "in their hearts."

"All of the actions today are in memory of Regan and in her honour," she said. "The best way to remember Regan and to pay respect to her legacy is to be active for the animals."

With files from Samantha Craggs

now