Family of slain animal activist says “We will not rest until justice is served”
Regan Russell, a pioneer of Canada’s animal rights movement, was tragically killed June 19 while attending a vigil with Animal Save Movement at a Fearmans/Sofina Foods slaughterhouse in Burlington, Ontario. No charges have been filed; police are still “investigating.”
Regan, age 65, was struck and run over by the driver of a truck full of pigs who were themselves in the last moments of their lives – pigs she’d been comforting just moments before.
Regan first became an animal activist in 1979 at age 24 when she learned about the brutal slaughter of Canadian seals, according to her partner of nearly two decades Mark Powell. She brought a homemade sign saying “Stop the seal hunt” to a government building in downtown Winnipeg on a cold winter day, and after standing around for several hours, hoping officials had noticed her, she believed she’d done some good.
“She went home, freezing cold,” Mark told Canada’s CBC News. “She took a hot bath and thought, ‘There, that’s done. What’s next?’”
A great deal, as it turned out. Russell was active in many other social justice movements, and had attended a Black Lives Matter rally just days before her death. She and Mark famously disrupted a 2017 Bill Cosby event with t-shirts that read “We Believe the Women.”
Protestor rights and safety has been an ongoing issue at Fearmans. Save Movement founder Anita Krajnc was charged with criminal mischief in 2015 for giving water to pigs outside Fearmans, as Russell had been doing. Krajnc was acquitted in 2017 after a trial that made international headlines.
This peaceful act of comforting animals, witnessing and documenting their suffering, is now criminalized under the province’s Bill 156, passed only days before Russell’s death. This “ag-gag” bill specifically prohibits the very vigils Save Movement performs worldwide.
A fundraising campaign has been created to continue Regan’s work, repeal 156, and assist the family, and it’s in that campaign they bravely share their strong condemnation of animal agriculture – and make it clear who they feel is to blame for her death.
“First and foremost, we’d like to thank everyone the world over for their outpour of support for Regan and her family. It is truly beautiful to see compassionate people across the globe reach out, stand vigil, and ultimately join us in carrying Regan’s torch.
“What must be said is that Regan’s death was senseless, in that it was entirely preventable. For years activists have been attempting to engage these plants, and the ag industry’s complete and utter lack of compassion over the years has led to various incidents, some of which can be viewed freely online. While she championed many causes, Regan’s last moments were spent standing for what she most deeply believed in, alongside beloved friends supporting animal rights.
“Those aware of this struggle for the better treatment of animals will immediately think of Bill 156. If you are unaware, Bill 156 passed in Ontario days before Regan’s death; of this, NDP MPP John Vanthof said:
“People are going to get hurt because of this. They [the ag industry] read a lot more into this than a simple deterrent, and that is a problem…when someone’s badly hurt or killed, it’s going to be an issue here [Queen’s Park] again, and it’s going to be a much bigger issue for that family.”(First session of 42nd Parliament, June 16, 2020)
“What Mr. Vanthof was trying to say was that legislation structured in this way, to suppress the speech of whistleblowers and make common acts of protest a crime, will not stop the activists and only embolden those who disagree with them. The struggle in a case like this is determining whether an accident or act of malice occurred, and if the latter did, can we actually seek justice? We are facing that struggle as a family right now, and we are grateful that the entire animal rights community joins us in the struggle to carry on Regan’s legacy. Rest assured we will not rest until justice is served.
“In pursuing justice, we have this to say; it does not end with a senseless death or a major meat distributor. This is not just a fight for vegetarians, vegans, and animal rights activists. This is a fight for the sanctity of our rights as free citizens to demonstrate for what we believe in. We seek to repeal Bill 156 in its entirety, and let it be known we believe Regan’s blood is on the hands of those that supported this vile legislation.”
Worldwide, supporters of Regan, her family, and her legacy, have paid her tribute in vigils.
Paul Watson, founder of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, minced no words in calling her killing a murder.
“Three days ago, Regan Russell was murdered by a cold-blooded monster devoid of empathy and compassion. She was deliberately run down by a truck driver. His cargo were pigs stuffed into the truck in over-heated conditions and extremely stressed from thirst.”
Academy Award-winning actor Joaquin Phoenix, a fixture at local events for L.A. Animal Save, added his voice:
“While her tragic death has brought upon deep sorrow in the Animal Save community, we will honor her memory by vigorously confronting the cruelties she fought so hard to prevent by marching with Black Lives, protecting Indigenous rights, fighting for LGBTQ equality, and living a compassionate vegan life. The Ontario government can attempt to silence us with the passage of its Ag-Gag bill – Bill 156 – but we will never go away and we will never back down.”
For many Regan’s death echoed that of English activist Jill Phipps 25 years ago this year. Phipps was run over by a truck carrying calves intended for export by airline elsewhere in Europe.
Like Phipps, witnesses at Fearmans said the driver did not stop after hitting Regan.
You can sign a petition to repeal Bill 156 here. Like Regan said, “I don’t know if it does any good. But I know doing nothing does no good.”
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