Accident reprises 1995 death of British protester Jill Phipps
BURLINGTON, Ontario––Regan Russell, 65, of Hamilton, Ontario, was on June 19, 2020 crushed to death by an 18-wheel livestock transport truck delivering pigs to slaughter at Fearman’s Pork Inc., the largest and oldest slaughterhouse in Ontario.
A local landmark since 1852, and the scene of weekly vigils against pig slaughter since 2010, Fearman’s Pork was acquired in 2012 by the Sofina Foods conglomerate.
Russell, involved in the vigils since the beginning, was a longtime volunteer for Animal Justice, Toronto Pig Save, the Animal Alliance of Canada, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
Russell died at the intersection of Appleby Line and Harvester Road at around 10:20 a.m.
Pigs kept aboard truck during investigation
“The truck with its cargo of squealing pigs remained at the scene for several hours as police blocked off the area and began their investigation,” recounted Burlington Post reporter David Lea.
“An officer was observed removing a sign that read, ‘Animals need protection under the law’ and a large yellow and white water bottle could be seen on the ground beside the [slaughterhouse] gate,” Lea said.
“Burlington resident Martin Foebel, who was having his breakfast across the street from the plant in the Wendy’s parking lot when the incident happened, described what he saw,” Lea continued.
Said Foebel, “The truck had been there for about four or five minutes. The protesters,” who were giving the pigs water, “walked away from the truck when they were done. Then I saw a woman,” Russell, “in the front there. I assume the truck driver thought he was clear to go and didn’t see that last protester.”
Added Lea, “Around 10 protesters who had been engaged in a regularly scheduled animal rights vigil at the plant remained on the scene following the crash.”
10,000 pigs killed per day
Elaborated Animal Justice, via social media, “Ten thousand pigs are trucked into and slaughtered at the Fearman’s Pork slaughterhouse every day. Advocates with the Animal Save Movement hold regular vigils outside of the slaughterhouse to document the suffering of these animals in transport. On a scorching hot day many pigs are likely to arrive at the facility already dead from heat exposure.”
Said Sofina Foods senior director of communications Danielle Dufour, “We are all truly saddened. Tragically, the individual died at the scene. The police are still investigating the accident and we are fully co-operating with the investigation.”
Anita Krajnc, co-founder of Toronto Pig Save, “drew attention to a petition her group had posted on Change.org two years ago,” Liam Casey and Nicole Thompson of Canadian Press added, “which called on [Sofina Foods chief executive Michael Latifi] to create a safety agreement that would allow the activists to safely protest.
“International headlines in 2015”
“On hot days activists will feed water to the pigs as they’re taken to slaughter,” Casey and Thompson continued. “Temperatures reached 30C [86 degrees Fahrenheit]” on the morning of Russell’s death, “and much of southwestern Ontario was under a heat warning by Environment Canada.”
Toronto Pig Save “drew international headlines in 2015,” Casey and Thompson added, “when Krajnc was arrested while giving water to the pigs on a hot day at the same spot. She was later found not guilty of criminal mischief when the case went to trial.”
The Krajnc case “came to a head on June 22, 2015,” wrote David Millward, U.S. correspondent for The Telegraph, “when a driver working for Van Boekel Hog Farms was pulling a pig trailer into which Ms Krajnc and her supporters poked water bottles.
Confrontation with truck driver
“There was a confrontation with the truck driver, who demanded she stop watering the pigs.
“The following day, Krajnc was told by police that there had been a complaint against her,” allegedly for spraying “an unknown liquid into the trailer where the hogs were situated.”
Said complainant Eric van Boekel, “She has the right to protest and make her views known.
“What she does not have the right to do is put my livestock in jeopardy. It is happening at a traffic stop light and people are putting their arms in with the livestock.
Trouble when the light turns green
“The problem is when the light turns green. It is not going to be a matter of if someone gets hurt, but when. I don’t want the responsibility of somebody getting maimed.”
On October 25, 2016, while the original charges against Krajnc remained pending, Casey wrote, “More than 100 pigs survived a truck crash in the Toronto area only to be marched to the slaughterhouse on foot shortly afterward in an incident that resulted in an animal activist already in trouble with the law charged once again by police.”
Krajnc was “charged with obstructing a peace officer and breach of recognizance,” Casey explained, after a pig hauler apparently turned too sharply, too fast, at the same intersection where Russell was killed and Krajnc was first arrested.
180 pigs in the truck
The rig flipped, “which led to several pigs escaping and roaming nearby streets, according to Halton regional police,” Casey said.
“Police said there were approximately 180 pigs in the vehicle and most of them remained pinned inside as workers from the plant slowly removed them from the toppled truck and walked them to the plant. They said an estimated 60 pigs died in the crash,” 42 killed outright, the rest euthanized because of their injuries.
“The truck driver — a 25-year-old man from Brunner, Ontario — suffered minor injuries and was released after being treated in hospital,” Casey finished.
Krajnc, after being cleared of the original charges against her, was acquitted of the second set of charges in May 2017.
“We have asked trucks to stop for two minutes”
Recalled Krajnc, who was not present at the June 19, 2020 vigil when Russell died, “We have had many close calls here. We have asked for trucks to stop for two minutes so we can bear witness, say goodbye to the pigs and give them water. We have a right to peaceful protest, and the activist who died today––that was absolutely unacceptable and unnecessary.”
But that right to peacefully protest was potentially put in jeopardy, Casey and Thompson of Canadian Press noted, by provincial legislation adopted just two days earlier “that hiked fines for trespassing on farms and food-processing facilities and made it illegal to obstruct trucks carrying farm animals.”
“Cancel animal agriculture”
Indeed, Russell’s last Facebook posting, hours before her death, mourned in white letters on a black background that “Bill 156 has passed. Now, any time an animal is suffering on a farm in Ontario, no one, not even an employee, has the right to expose it. This decision is evil. Animal ag is evil. Cancel animal agriculture.”
Elaborated Animal Justice, “Bill 156 is designed to cover up animal cruelty on farms and during transport. Among other troubling provisions aimed at preventing whistleblowers and animal advocates from exposing the abuse of farmed animals, the new law aims to restrict the peaceful protest rights those who hold vigils at slaughterhouses across the province.
” It does so by making it an offense to ‘interact’ with farmed animals in a transport truck—a prohibition widely denounced by animal advocates and constitutional law experts as an unconstitutional restriction of rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly guaranteed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Today’s vigil was one of the last opportunities for a vigil before the bill becomes law.”
Marc Bekoff vs. Bill 156
A brief filed in support of Bill 156 by the Ontario Federation of Agriculture alleged that “We simply do not know if animals are capable of reasoning and cognitive thought, therefore we cannot attribute human qualities of reasoning and cognitive thought on animals as the activists would like.”
This provoked an extensively footnoted response on June 12, 2020 from Psychology Today online columnist Mark Bekoff, professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado in Boulder.
“Psychology Today unpublished the first version because of its advocacy,” Bekoff on June 14, 2020 emailed to friends, including ANIMALS 24-7, but Bekoff posted the response to his own web site, and on June 16, Bekoff updated, “Psychology Today reinstated my essay.”
Bill 156 is believed to be likely to fail when prosecutions are appealed to Canadian higher courts, but that may take several years.
Russell “ended up being Bill 156’s first human victim”
Meanwhile, Russell “ended up being Bill 156’s first human victim,” friend and fellow animal advocate Tita Zed posted to Facebook.
“Regan and I met in the mid-eighties at an animal rights protest,” Zed remembered. “Regan asked me to bear witness in Quaker fashion this past January to the animals in trucks headed to slaughterhouses. Like Regan, I haven’t eaten animals in decades, but I also didn’t need to see how they met their sad ends after such short, brutal lives, so I’d politely declined earlier invitations to take part.
“But I would’ve done anything for my friend Regan,” Zed said, “so once she asked, I schlepped to Hamilton to join her. Along with a few dozen local activists, we visited three slaughterhouses that day, bearing witness to hundreds of cows and pigs who would be killed for their flesh, or who were unable to still produce enough milk to be profitable.
“Regan kept a very close eye on me”
“Regan kept a very close eye on me on my first day of bearing witness,” Zed emphasized. “The truck drivers know that the slaughterhouse allows animal advocates to spend two minutes with the animals, a process overseen at the time by slaughterhouse security staff. But some of these truck drivers seemed angry and impatient – maybe at the protestors, maybe at the fact they spent their lives delivering animals to their death, I don’t know. I do remember that Regan was hyper-vigilant about the cars and trucks around us, and she grabbed my arm more than once.
“That’s why I find it very, very hard to believe that she was doing anything dangerous or inappropriate when the truck driver ran her over,” Zed offered.
“Regan was not stupid or foolhardy or attention-seeking,” Zed concluded. “Regan had literally devoted her life to animals, from her decades-long work in humane education at local schools, to her peaceful activism at slaughterhouses, to her foster work with local cat rescues. Over many decades, Regan had worked on committees, attended marches and rallies, wrote hundreds of letters, signed petitions, met with local politicians, and made every possible effort to lead a compassionate lifestyle.”
Alka Chandna remembers
“I’ve been having a difficult time coming to terms with this news since hearing it earlier today,” posted Alka Chandna, of Windsor, Ontario, a longtime PETA investigator and science advisor, “I met Regan in the late 1980s, probably at an animal rights protest in Toronto,” Chanda recalled. “She was a couple of years older than me, smart, vivacious, ready to put detractors in their place with her acerbic wit, crazy glamorous, and dedicated to the core. I would see Regan from time to time at protests, vigils, conferences, and other events. Once, she and our friend James Strecker drove from Hamilton to London, Ontario to give a talk and poetry reading on animal rights issues to our student group. I lost touch with Regan when I moved to Newfoundland in 1992,” Chandna said, “but I knew she was continuing to fight the good fight.
“Regan Russell has selflessly been fighting for animal rights, and human rights since the 1970s,” recalled another longtime friend, Sean O’Gorman of Burlington, Ontario.
“While giving kindness and water to terrified dehydrated baby animals about to be forced into a slaughterhouse, she was run down by the truck that was carrying them, at violent facilities that should not exist. My condolences to her family, including her 90 year old parents whom she was looking after.”
“She had an incredible presence”
“Regan had been an animal advocate since 1979,” Animal Justice said in a media release, but wildlife artist, Born Free USA representative, and Zoocheck Canada board member Barry Kent MacKay told ANIMALS 24-7, “I have a feeling it was even earlier.”
“I have been too shaken up to do anything today,” McKay continued, “just trying to cope with my emotions. I am still shaken. I keep hearing her voice in my head. She had an incredible presence, human, not perfect, but very special, indeed. I’ve tried to write about her tonight but when I do I just tear up.
“Regan and I haven’t seen each other in several years,” MacKay said, “but we were close friends in our younger years and she continued to call regularly. We’d have great chats about animals and everything else.
Was formerly Regan Wood
“She was physically attractive and so became a professional model when young, later running a modeling agency, very professional and competent,” MacKay remembered.
“She was Regan Wood when I first knew her,” McKay said, “married to TV weatherman Brian Wood.”
Wood, who like Russell is a native of Hamilton, Ontario, began his career at CHAM radio in Hamilton in 1972. He moved to CHAB radio in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, in 1974, and then to CKY/TV in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1975, returning to Hamilton and CHAM in 1982.
Remaining in Hamilton since then, Wood spent 13 years, 1988-2001, with CHML/Y95.3, worked briefly for WAVE 94.7, and has worked in various capacities for CHCH since May 1985.
The marriage, however, did not last.
Life partner Mark Powell
Russell since 2000 had shared her life with Mark Powell, a West Hamilton general contractor since 1990, who like herself had attended the Westdale Secondary School in Hamilton, was a fellow member of the First Unitarian Church, and was strongly supportive of her activism. They married on October 15, 2019.
“She died fighting for what she believed in,” Powell told Hamilton Spectator reporter Matthew Van Dongen. “Whatever it cost, she would pay. Sometimes it was money. Sometimes, it’s this.”
Wrote Van Dongen, “Russell’s passion for social justice was not restricted to pigs, noted Powell. She marched at the latest Black Lives Matter event in Hamilton. She helped rally a crowd of outraged residents to disrupt now-convicted sex assaulter Bill Cosby’s 2015 performance in Hamilton.”
“I was the bail money”
“Russell was arrested on 11 occasions for ‘various acts of civil disobedience’ over several decades,” Powell recounted to Van Dongen. “That’s why he sometimes strategically stayed out of the fray.”
Said Powell, “I was the bail money.”
Continued Van Dongen, “Her mother, Pat Russell, 90, said she was sometimes uneasy about — but always proud — of her daughter’s passion for protest.
“I mostly worried she would be arrested,” Pat Russell said. “But animals were her life.”
Russell’s death recalled that of Jill Phipps, 31, crushed by a livestock truck during a February 1995 protest at Baginton airport, near Coventry, England, against live exports of calves and lambs to vealers in the Netherlands and Belgium.
Example as a martyr
The British live export industry peaked during the months after Phipps’ death, but was suspended by the European Union after the 1996 discovery that “mad cow disease,” then endemic in Britain and believed to have evolved from the sheep disease scrapie, could be transmitted to humans.
After live exports resumed, Phipps’ example as a martyr helped to rally revived protests. In 1995, the year of Phipps’ death, the U.K. shipped about 2.5 million live animals per year to the continent, but after the “mad cow disease” episode and another interruption following a February 2001 outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, live exports of hooved animals fell to an average of about 65,000 per year, only gradually recovering to the present reported volume of about 750,000 per year.
The present British government, headed by prime minister Boris Johnson, has repeatedly pledged to end live exports of farmed animals altogether, including in September and November 2019, but has yet to actually do so.