As It Happens

'He was a legend': Stormy the prison farm protest donkey dead at 40

A champion in the long-fought battle to save Canada's prison farm system has died. He was 40-years-old, and a real ass.
Stormy the donkey, the mascot of the movement to save Canada's prison farms, had died. He was 40. (Jeff Peters)

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A champion in the long-fought battle to save Canada's prison farm system has died. 

The 40-year-old activist was at the forefront of protests against the former Conservative government's decision to shutter Canada's prison farms. During his time as an activist, he was interviewed on CBC Television, chased off Parliament Hill by Mounties and even arrested. 

But more than anything, Stormy will be remembered for being a real ass. 

"He was a legend in our prison farm campaign," Jeff Peters, owner of Stormy the donkey and chairman of the Pen Farm Herd Co-op in Kingston, Ont., told As It Happens guest host Helen Mann Thursday. "Everybody has to go sometime, but he lived to a ripe old age, that's for sure."

Jeff Peters, right, says he will fight on in Stormy's honour. (Lars Hagberg/Canadian Press)

Peters was part of the protest movement against the federal government's 2010 decision to shut down all six of Canada's federal prison farms at institutions in New Brunswick, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.

He added a lot of humour to our campaign.- Jeff Peters, Stormy's owner

He would often bring Stormy along to protests and blockades, strapping funny signs to the animal's back.

"He added a lot of humour to our campaign," Peters said. "He was a symbol of our stubbornness and persistence not to give up on an issue that we're still fighting for. So now we're gonna fight in his memory."

Career highlights 

In the spring of 2010, Stormy had his first brush with the law during protests on Parliament Hill. 

"He bolted and got away from me and headed to the lawns up on Parliament Hill and started nibbling on the grass," Peters said.

"The RCMP tried to catch him, and he didn't want to get caught. Eventually, he got captured and they sent us back onto the sidewalk and said, 'Don't come on the grass again.'"

Stormy got the last laugh. Shortly after the police chase, MPs invited the donkey back onto the lawn for a photo op.

Parliament hill prison farm protest (2010)

6 years ago
Duration 0:26
People who want to save Canada's six prison farms from being cut held a protest on Parliament Hill. They brought Stormy the donkey with them to help make their point

That incident also earned Stormy a TV news interview on CBC.

"We got in the studio, and I was so nervous that he would have a bathroom break right there," Peters said. "Eventually we got that over with. That was an interesting time."

Stormy the donkey on Power & Politics

6 years ago
Duration 2:23
P&P host Evan Solomon talks to prison farm protesters March 30, 2010

Stormy had another run-in with police in August 2010 during a blockade of the Frontenac Institution in Kingston. The protesters were trying to stop the removal of cows from the prison farm. Peters had chained himself to Stormy. 

"When I got arrested, I remember the policeman saying, 'Holy..." — and I can't say the next word," Peters said. "So they took us both towards the paddy wagon and they had to get us apart. They were gonna send him to the Humane Society. I went to jail. But eventually someone took him home that night."

Jeff Peters chained himself to his donkey during a 2010 blockade. (Jeff Peters)

Hope for the farms' future 

Meanwhile, activists are still pushing to have the prison farms reopened, arguing they are good for rehabilitation and teach inmates useful skills.

Earlier this year, the Liberal government suggested it would consider reopening the farms. Peters said he's been assured the government will discuss the issue during the spring session of Parliament.

"We have our fingers crossed that this is the year that the cows that we own that originally came from the farm, and their babies, will go back to jail and help the inmates turn their lives around," Peters said.

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