Truckers, animal activists, divided on rules to limit protests

John G Smith

BURLINGTON, Ont. – The entrance to Fearmans Pork clearly defined the divide between livestock haulers and animal rights activists on Thursday.

On one side were the truckers, with signs advising people to “Stay away from trucks” and “Put safety first.” On the other were signs proclaiming “Go vegan for Regan,” and “This is about the animals, not truckers”.

Protesters surround trucks as they enter the processing facility, providing water to pigs in the trailer and recording the conditions inside. (Photo: John G. Smith)

But it’s about truckers, too.

The plant gates have long been a magnet for protesters who participate in a tactic known as “bearing witness”. Trucks are blocked. Trailers are surrounded. Water is offered to the pigs inside as cameras record conditions. After a few minutes, everyone steps back and the wheels roll.

But the process turned deadly June 19, when activist Regan Russell was struck and killed, leading to charges for a 28-year-old truck driver from North Perth, Ont.

Such protests have continued at least twice a week since then, but for the second time in a month they have also been met by a rally organized by truckers calling on Halton Regional Police to enforce Bill 156: Ontario’s Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act.

Once in force, the legislation will 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 that focus on farms and processing facilities themselves.

In a twist of fate, Russell died the same day the act was given royal assent.

This is the second time in a month that animal activists have been greeted by a rally organized by truckers and their supporters. (Photo: John G. Smith)

The protesters are harassing drivers and farmers alike, said truck driver and farmer TJ Medway, who organized Thursday’s rally for truckers and described its three goals: “To make sure that Bill 156 is enforced, to make sure that it is signed sooner than what they are saying, and to make sure the workplace harassment stops and that Halton Regional Police actually do something in regards to this matter.”

He hauls fuel these days, but remembers what it was like to be in the cab as it was surrounded during similar events.

“This has been going on for eight, nine years now, and it should never have gone on for this long to begin with,” said Tyler Jutzi, vice-president and part owner of Brussels Transport, one of the largest livestock haulers in the region. “It’s nice to finally see that our side’s being shared. The agricultural community is behind us and the truckers.

“Every driver that drives through here today finally sees some support on their side.”

This day, the drivers were met with cheers, and returned the favor with waves and blasts of the horn. Even a passing minivan carried a sign reading “Roll on 18-wheeler”.

Activists are not respecting vehicle blindspots, says Tyler Jutzi of Brussels Transport. (Photo: John G. Smith)

Activists are not respecting vehicle blind spots, Jutzi said. “When you’re turned crooked in there, you can’t see down the passenger side at all and they don’t respect that. Some times you’ll be pulled in, turned cockeyed, and they’ll be on your driver’s side so you can’t see any of them.”

“I’m all for protesting, but I don’t believe that people should be on the road,” said truck driver Kristy Perrin, who grew up on a pig farm. “When those hogs come in, they’re calm and they’re relaxed. But all [the animal rights activists] are doing is making them upset. And the longer they’re out on the road, the longer it takes for them to get into the barns where there’s water and misters.”

Sabrina Desgagne, founder of Burlington’s New Wave Activism group that organizes the animal rights protests, argues that Bill 156 shows that government officials and lobbyists want to hide the truth, and are specifically targeting the events.

“This is a peaceful protest. Breaking and entering is always illegal, so there are already laws in place to protect private property and possessions,” she said.

Moments later, police on the scene reminded her of laws that are in place, approaching her with a summons.

“I saw you jump out and step in front,” the officer said.

“Did I use the crosswalk or was I in front of it?” Desgagne responded. “Did you even see? Because I have proof.”

Several signs attempt to reinforce that the fight does not involve truckers. (Photo: John G. Smith)

There is no shortage of footage captured at the event, despite signs on the gates that ban cameras and cell phones. Those on each side of the issue recorded moments using everything from cell phones to body cameras, capturing the content that is shared with supporters through social media. Each group refers to hashtags and online reports that help to reinforce their respective positions.

“We’ve never been aggressive. We’ve always done our two minutes and had respect for the drivers. We come with nothing but peace signs and waves and we say thank you every time,” Desgagne said.

The focus on peace, love and understanding isn’t exactly universal. One protester, clearly unhappy that I was in a documentary film crew’s shot, asked me to step away from a truck. After identifying myself as being with Today’s Trucking magazine and responding that I was also there to cover the event, he began to shout out, “He’s a trucker! He’s a trucker!” as if that was a negative thing. Then he proceeded to block the camera while forming his fingers as a peace sign.

Jutzi says he’s been called worse.

Desgagne counters with a list of insults that drivers have thrown her way. But she insists that she doesn’t hold any animosity toward the truck drivers who do the work.

Truck driver and rally organizer TJ Medway, with fellow driver and livelong farmer Kristy Perrin. (Photo: John G. Smith)

“I have a lot of respect for truckers as a profession. I don’t really distinguish between a pig trucker versus a non-pig trucker. They all deserve the same safety on the job, but of course it takes an extra level of discipline you can say to have to use an electric prod to hit the animals so that they get unloaded and loaded. But that’s just a part of their job that they are forced to do and, you know what I mean, they probably don’t want to be doing that.”

Jeff Miller, a Brussels Transport driver, has been hauling livestock for about three decades, and believes the protests have intensified in recent years.

“I know this sounds dramatic, but more of a militant fashion,” he said. “The harassment has definitely increased. The intimidation tactics that they use definitely increase … We’re all entitled to a safe, harassment-free workplace.”

While Bill 156 could help to solve the issue, the results will depend on enforcement, he said, referring to the safety on public highways.

“You’re sitting there for your five minutes, getting yelled at, called a murderer. I’ve been compared to Hitler,” Jutzi said.

“You feel pretty isolated in that truck.”

John G Smith

John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media's trucking and supply chain publications -- including Today's Trucking, trucknews.com, TruckTech, Transport Routier, Inside Logistics, Solid Waste & Recycling, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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  • They never once only held a truck up for 2 minutes..they were timed and told but they stayed on the road defying police orders..counter protesters stayed on the sidewalk

  • With all the suffering in the world, people without food, homeless people, you’d think these protesters would put their energy towards helping others rather than focusing on animals that are used to feed people. They’ve elevated the pigs over fellow humans. Disgusting.

    • How have they elevated pigs over humans? Asking people to stop unnecessarily kill pigs causes human suffering? How?

      • Why not spend your time focusing on the needs of other human beings rather than wasting time worrying about livestock. If you’ve got so much time, go help at a homeless shelter. You prioritize your time worrying about pigs and could care less about fellow humans. PETA. People Eating Tasty Animals.

    • I am a trucker and I haul pigs, I have never witnessed this but I’ve heard many stories from coworkers about this and its sad, I don’t even use a electric prod, the company I work for has many protocols in place to prevent animal abuse but where is the protection from law enforcement to make sure the drivers are safe?

    • Not true. Think of all the grain fed to animals that could be fed to humans instead. But no, farmers would rather feed animals than people. People do not need to eat animals, and they shouldn’t. Stop animal cruelty and repeal Bill 156!

  • When you listen or read what an activist has to say they make no sense at all . I have yet to hear a steer, hog or a chicken meow or meew for help. Livestock are a farmers way of life to feed our population.
    When it comes right down to it most activists are not activists any more. They are terrorists threatening us at every turn with trespassing and and damages plus verbal insults.
    Activists have even spit on 4-H kids showing their sheep and hogs at local fairs.

  • unfortunately for T.J. Medway, his little monthly protests aren’t going to stop us from bearing witness. Being ticketed won’t stop us from bearing witness. Bill 156 will not stop us from bearing witness. And finally, having one of our own intentionally murdered by a truck driver in an attempt to scare us from protesting still will not stop us from bearing witness. Because this isn’t just about bearing witness, this is about abolishing all forms of animal oppression, and dismantling speciesism. To all the truckers and farmers, change your job before you lose it. (I recommend farming and trucking plants, because shocker, vegans still depend on farmers and truckers, just not animal abusing ones!)

  • I’m always amazed how many people have time to protest! I would imagine that the majority are on public assistance because If they worked for a living they’d be home resting lol

  • Unfortunately, most people don’t understand that tractor trailers have massive blind spots that swallow cars and pick up trucks let alone pedestrians. Step off the sidewalk and you could be run over and the driver wouldn’t even know you went under the tires. There is no big bump or massive collision felt inside the truck at low speed. The protestors also don’t realize that trucks can’t stop on a dime. They also don’t consider the animals they are passionate about being injured/killed if the truck has to make an emergency stop to avoid running over a person. Protest but be aware…

  • If you don’t want to eat pork or any other thing that is your choice i don’t stop carrot trucks because I don’t like carrot so stop the BS and grow up this has gone on to long

  • Some activists get out of control. It distressed me to see a load of pigs being hauled to the slaughterhouse. I like animals but sad to say, it will always be here.
    No, I’m not a vegan but no matter how tough it gets, I don’t think I could haul livestock. Guess I’m just too soft for that.
    For those who can, I wish them safe trips.

  • Stop making money off of animals. Haul something else. Don’t be taking a part in the use, abuse, torture and murder of helpless, defenseless, innocent animals.

  • I feel sorry for those truck drivers. I have told that will be harder to get truck drivers to haul animals of all types. The way that some people are living on the street are in worse condition than the animals live. In many parts of the U S you can not run the truck for air-conditioning unless you want a pet. Please explain why a dog’s comfort and we’ll being is more important than a person’s well being. I see many people in Ontario living on the street with hardly enough to eat and freezing in Ontario. These people do not want to talk about bigger problems. I like the idea that we can protest but we need to not impead other people in the process. P S my house was made unlivable 6 years ago and the insurance company has definitely delayed making the nessary repairs making me homeless
    I was camped out at Queen’s Park from January 24 to March 17 of this year because of the coronavoius ended my protest .

  • On the day these “protesters”have to receive their dole allowance they are not available to harass the drivers by blocking the roads.