Animal activist struck, killed days after anti-trespassing rules given royal assent

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BURLINGTON, Ont. – Animal rights activist Regan Russell died in a June 19 accident, protesting the very Ontario law that aims to discourage people from approaching livestock-hauling trucks and processing facilities.

It wasn’t the first time that protesters had gathered outside Fearman’s Pork to “bear witness” to pigs being transported to slaughter. Supporters of organizations such as Toronto Pig Save regularly walk up to such vehicles, extending water bottles out to pigs loaded in the trailers. But the accident happened a day after Ontario’s Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act was given royal assent.

Animal rights activist Regan Russell died during a June 19 protest, only days after Ontario approved new anti-trespassing rules to limit such activities. (Photo: Toronto Pig Save)

It was also almost five years to the day after Toronto Pig Save co-founder Anita Krajnc was charged with criminal mischief for giving water to pigs being transported into the same facility in Burlington, Ont. She was later found not guilty.

“That area does see frequent plant protests,” Halton Regional Police Constable Steve Elms told Today’s Trucking.

Police continue to investigate video evidence relating to the June 19 accident, but no charges have been laid.

“This is a tragedy and we extend our sincere condolences to them,” facility owners Sofina Foods said in a public statement. “We also recognize the impact that this event had on our employees and have been providing support to them in these very difficult times.”

When introducing the legislation, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs cited concerns about people approaching moving trucks or attempting to stop the equipment on public roadways. Interacting with animals in transport would also cause additional stress to the livestock and risk introducing contaminants into the food supply, it added.

“The livestock trucking industry told us that it has challenges attracting drivers, and the additional challenge and stressor is the potential for danger to the drivers caused by those who interfere with the transport of farm animals or by those trying to interact with the farm animals while in transport,” a ministry spokeswoman told Today’s Trucking. “Livestock transport operators told us about incidents where people have stepped out in front of moving trucks, stopped trucks from gaining access to the processing plant, or harassed drivers. Those that approach moving trucks create safety risks for themselves, the drivers, and the animals being transported.” 

Video provided by Toronto Pig Save shows Russell at related protests. (Video: Toronto Pig Save)

The new rules prohibit stopping or interfering with motor vehicles transporting farm animals, or interacting with the farm animals without explicit prior consent. There are also several trespassing-related measures relating to farms and processing facilities themselves.

Penalties will include fines of up to $15,000 for a first offence and up to $25,000 for subsequent offences, compared to a maximum $10,000 fine under the Ontario Trespass to Property Act. Courts will also be able to order restitution for injury, loss or damages associated with the offence.

Protesters have come to refer to the legislation as the “ag gag” law.

Nearly 130 municipalities have passed or supported council resolutions looking for stronger protections for the related businesses. And about 5,000 letters have been submitted to support the legislation, the ministry says.

“We’ve urged [the government] to make this a priority because of the safety issues,” says Susan Fitzgerald, executive director of the Ontario Livestock Transporters’ Alliance, a group that she says represents 80% of commercial hog transportation in the province.

Fitzgerald expects the regulations to be enacted by this fall or early next year.

“Our concern has been with the protesters being up close to the trucks and trailers and the animals,” she says, referring to the protesters who approach loaded trailers, and the load security issues that can occur if the animals inside are spooked. “The drivers can’t see 360 degrees around the trailers.”

“Interfering with the operations of farms, food processing businesses, and livestock transporters not only puts the health and safety of our agri-food workers and farm animals at risk, but also jeopardizes our food safety,” Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Minister Ernie Hardeman said last December, when introducing the legislation.

“Our concern has been with the protesters being up close to the trucks and trailers and the animals.”

– Susan Fitzgerald, Ontario Livestock Transporters Alliance

“She [Russell] went that particular day to stand up for what she believed was the right for peaceful protests,” Krajnc says of the June 19 accident. “[Trucking operations] have safety protocols. You don’t plow into people.”

Several processing facilities have adjusted their procedures to allow for protests, Krajnc adds, using a Maple Leaf poultry facility as an example. Trucks there stop for five minutes before entering.

“You can create a culture of mutual respect where activists are able to protest peacefully.”

-This story has been updated to include comments from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

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John G. Smith is Newcom Media's vice-president - editorial, and the editorial director of its trucking publications -- including Today's Trucking,, and Transport Routier. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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  • I’ve beared witness with Toronto Pig Save and most of the truck drivers were polite and cooperated. However, one just barreled through at high speed, just barely missing the activists who formed a line. I was so shaken, even though I wasn’t one of the people almost hit.
    As for Bill 156, the part I very much disagree with is that a whistle blower can now be prosecuted. No one can go undercover, any staff cannot report cruelty to the media.
    Conditions in some long term care homes have been reported and it’s caused outrage. Vulnerable seniors needed a voice, so do the animals.

  • I believe that the treatment of animals in transport to slaughter from factory farms and their treatment in the farms themselves is a disgrace and on everyone’s conscience whether a farm worker, a driver, or simply a member of the meat eating public. It is also on the conscience of those of us who don’t eat meat yet fail to stand up and speak the uncomfortable truth that makes all of us recoil from our own behaviour. Any act of conscience- including a decision to write a factual article that does not shrink from the hideous truth of what we humans do to millions of defenseless animals in our care every day- I applaud.

    • Barbara, I think you need to remove your head from that dark place and go to a farm. Not a factory farm, but to a real farm…. Just because YOU would choose to get your meat from a factory farmed source does not mean the rest of us do; stop painting everyone with the same brush (it’s tantamount to racism, in case you were wondering..)

      Start making better choices – get your meat from local sources. Farmers that use natural grasslands for their animals… you know as nature intended.
      I’m pretty sure that the indigenous population has a lot more respect for life than ANY of us do, and they still eat meat…. they recognize that life is precious, and that by taking that animals life, it’s energy and life is given to another being to carry on with it’s life force, all part of the way of the Creator.
      I’d wager you’re also the type that thinks we should save an injured bear if it’s spotted? What about the family of wolves that bear would feed through the winter? Why is that in your power to choose? I’d also wager you have pets… at least animals raised for food serve a purpose, instead of just allowing shallow humans to cope with the emotional void in their life…. I’d say that’s tantamount to slavery…

    • Did you know that vegan and vegetarian eating is actually not healthy. The keto eating guidelines are much more healthy. To get started a nutritionist who focuses on commercial drivers health has helped thousands achieve “back to good health”!.

  • Anyone who has seen the inside of many a barn or ‘livestock’ vehicle covered in feces, blood &urine (even on the outside of trucks) and headed to slaughter should never say (with a straight face) that “…the health and safety of our agri-food workers and farm animals at risk, but also jeopardizes our food safety…” It should be of little surprise that some of the highest cases of covid in this country are found in slaughter buildings which are a perfect petri dish for viruses, diseases and pandemics.

  • Great post.
    It is nice to see a fair article.

    Pandemics like Covid 19, SARS, Anthrax, Swine Flu, Bird flu and HIV would not exist if it were not for animal abuse and flesh consumption.
    Our first priority is the immense animal suffering.
    We need society to have a change of heart!

    “Do not be so civilized you forget you are an animal. Do not be so uncivilized you forget you are an animal.”
    We have lost touch with the greater nature of life.

    Is there really a humane way to kill someone with a will to live? We know nothing!

    Thank you.

  • GOOD. These activist idiots don’t realize that they are doing more harm than good. Do they not realize that if they are contaminated by any kind of virus or anything, they can endanger the animal’s health and the health of a whole heard which may then have to be put down.
    And even more sickening that almost half of our government did not want to pass the trespassing law that will prevent these activists from entering and occupying your farm.

    Come on my land uninvited and I can guarantee you it won’t be good for you.

    • I agree 100% with you. These activists would be the first ones to call police it we invade their homes so why should they have the right to come onto our property uninvited. Farms are not just a work place but also a home to many. Some of the people they are a home to are children and they must be protected from how some of these activist act trying to help the cause

  • Do these moronic “protesters” not understand that blocking a truck may cause deadly accidents or are they to stupid????

    • They don’t care. They believe that the more they disrupt society the great the chances society will bend to their will and conform to their beliefs. Doesn’t sound very democratic to me. I believe they have the right to protest in a peaceful manner that doesn’t hold up or interfere with anyone else. It’s their right to protest the same as it’s my right to enjoy eating as much meat as I can.

  • The problem with the new law is that it probably won’t be enforced by the police or the courts . As soon as they stick their bottle of water inside the trailer it should be considered an act of terrorism and prosecuted as such !

  • Why does Fearmans management not allow two minutes of bearing witness in a safe and sensible way? Other GTA facilities have done so. The protesters are not going away, so it’s in everyone’s interest to come to an agreement. Regan Russell was crossing the entrance to the slaughterhouse when she was struck and killed on June 19th, if there had been an agreement in place she might still be alive