Earlier this week the Ontario government announced legislation that would make it illegal for protesters to interfere with trucks carrying livestock. The legislation came in the wake of the death of animal rights activist Regan Russel of Hamilton who was killed this summer while protesting near a truck transporting hogs to the Fearman meat processing plant in Burlington. In response to the legislation Burlington Mayor Marianne Meed Ward issued a statement that we reproduce in part:
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees our freedom of expression, freedom of association, and the freedom of peaceful assembly. It is a core pillar of our democracy and one I will always defend. As Burlington’s Mayor, I support this right and part of doing so involves working with local agencies like the Halton Regional Police Service and relevant community groups to ensure this expression can take place in a safe way for everyone involved.
This past June, a protester lost her life while expressing her support of veganism and animal rights here in Burlington outside the Fearmans (Sofina Foods) processing plant at Harvester Road and Appleby Line. Her name was Regan Russell of Hamilton, Ontario. The impact of this death extends to her family and friends, as well as all those who were present that day and many caring community members. We need to work together to make sure that what happened to Regan Russell never happens again.
Additional sections of the Security From Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act will be going into effect today, making it an offence to stop, obstruct, hinder or otherwise interfere with a motor vehicle transporting farm animals. Even since Regan’s death, I continue to get calls, emails and photographs from local community members on a regular basis that clearly show protesters standing in live lanes of traffic near this processing plant, approaching delivery trucks and giving water to the pigs inside the trucks while on the roadway or standing in front of trucks, temporarily blocking their ability to enter the plant. These concerned community members are reaching out because they worry for the safety of the protesters and all other drivers and pedestrians in the area. They fear another accident will happen and are demanding action be taken to prevent it. I understand their concerns and want to help.
Protests are allowed where they remain on public property, and it remains illegal to trespass on private property, even during a protest. We need to work together to ensure these protests take place safely on the sidewalks and do not place any protesters, drivers or pedestrians in danger. We want to avoid situations where the police need to charge protesters with an offence and deal with very costly penalties.
Based on my conversations with police this morning, it appears that protesters are most often following the legislation, staying out of traffic and not approaching or blocking trucks, however, we have received resident reports that some have been observed spraying the animals with water. A separate section in the proposed legislation deals with not interfering with animals in any way, which would prevent spraying them with anything, but that has not yet been enacted. There have been requests made to the Ministry to explore enacting that piece sooner as well, to provide clarity that no interaction with animals is possible.
As Police Chief Stephen Tanner said today in their press release on the matter,
“We are fully aware of the growing concerns regarding the safety of individuals who obstruct the transportation of livestock and interfere with farm animals. We recognize the right for people to protest, but that right does not include dangerously obstructing vehicles at food processing facilities. While there may be an opportunity for a graduated educational approach in the early stages of this new legislation, enforcement will be utilized as soon as necessary. We are thankful for this new legislation from the Province of Ontario designed to ensure safety of livestock and also of protesters, truckers and all involved in the transportation of livestock.” I have also reached out today to the Toronto Pig Save organization to share my thoughts and concerns, and look to partner with them on proactive safety measures as