Family and friends are mourning the loss and demanding justice after longtime animal and human rights activist Regan Russell, 65, was killed last week when she was fatally hit by a truck transporting pigs for slaughter while protesting outside of Fearmans Pork Inc. in Burlington, Ontario.
Ten thousand pigs a day are trucked to the facility, which has long been a target for animal rights protesters who gather at the entrance gate to bear witness or provide final comfort to the hogs.
Russell was attending a special pig vigil on June 19 to protest controversial legislation passed in Ontario two days earlier and according to witnesses, had been giving water to pigs inside the trailer of a truck entering the slaughterhouse shortly before she was hit.
"People say we’re breaking the law…How do you think women got the right (to vote)? How do you think slavery was abolished?...People stood up and broke the laws—because they’re stupid laws." —Regan Russell
Russell, along with others, was protesting Bill 156, the Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act, a law that increased fines for trespassing on farms and food-processing facilities and made it illegal to obstruct trucks carrying farm animals.
The bill, characterized as an "Ag-Gag" law, was swiftly denounced by the animal rights community.
"The new law could make it illegal for employee whistleblowers to seek out and expose animal abuse on farms, violations of workplace safety laws, and filthy conditions that could breed pathogens and threaten public health," said Animal Justice in a statement.
The group further warned the new legislation will "further conceal animal cruelty at farms and slaughterhouses, and interfere with lawful protests."
Over 40 Canadian legal experts wrote to the government in February to advise that Bill 156 was unconstitutional because it attacks freedom of expression and could make investigative journalism at farms and slaughterhouses illegal.
Mark Powell, Russell's life partner of 19 years, who described her as his "tall, beautiful, passionate" best friend, released a statement Thursday condeming her death as senseless and 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," said Powell.
He added that 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."
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Powell emphasized that Russell's death was bigger than just one person. "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," he said. "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."
"We are grateful that the entire animal rights community joins us in the struggle to carry on Regan’s legacy," added Powell, "Rest assured we will not rest until justice is served."
Russell is remembered fondly by her friend Anita Krajnc, co-founder of Toronto Pig Save, who said, “She supported Black Lives Matter, Indigenous rights and she was an intersectional vegan who understood the importance of equality in terms of racial justice and in terms of animal equality."
Stephanie Schwartz, a fellow Toronto Pig Save activist said, "She was the most peaceful, logical, kind, compassionate person that I’ve ever met. She just stuck up for the vulnerable … we need more people like that, it’s terrible."
A vigil was was held on Father’s Day in honor of Russell where a sign read, "A Father Lost His Daughter Here. Justice for Regan."
A father lost his daughter on Friday.
Regan Russell was killed while peacefully bearing witness to pigs who were on their way to slaughter. She wanted to be there to let them know they were not alone.
— PETA (@peta) June 21, 2020
Russell frequently declared: "People say we’re breaking the law…How do you think women got the right (to vote)? How do you think slavery was abolished?...People stood up and broke the laws—because they're stupid laws."
There is no information at this time about whether charges against the truck driver will be made.