Truck Driver Who Ran Over Animal Advocate Escapes Criminal Charges

A transport truck driver has avoided criminal prosecution in connection with the death of animal advocate Regan Russell. Regan was violently run over and killed last month by a truck taking pigs to slaughter outside Fearmans Pork slaughterhouse in Burlington, Ontario.

The Halton Police announced that they laid one provincial Highway Traffic Act charge against the 28-year old truck driver—careless driving causing death. The police did not release the name of the truck driver, or the video of the incident.

Provincial charges are considered far less serious than criminal charges. The provincial offence of careless driving causing death carries with it a penalty of $2,000 to $50,000 and up to two years in jail, and no criminal record. A comparable criminal offence, such as dangerous driving causing death, would be punishable by large fines and up to 14 years in prison, plus a criminal record.

Regan Russell was a member of the Animal Save Movement, and was at the slaughterhouse on the day she was killed to document the condition of pigs trucked to slaughter in sweltering heat, and to help provide water to them. She was also there in protest of Bill 156, dangerous so-called “ag gag” legislation passed two days earlier by the provincial government. Bill 156 aims to cover up animal cruelty in the farming industry, and interferes with the Charter-protected rights of citizens and journalists to protest and document animal abuse at farms, slaughterhouses, and in transport. Animal Justice intends to challenge the constitutionality of Bill 156 in court.

Although the police did not lay criminal charges against the trucker, they rarely extend this leniency to animal advocates. Law enforcement authorities regularly give preferential, slap-on-the-wrist treatment to industries responsible for animal suffering, while pursuing serious criminal prosecutions against people who expose and take action to stop animal cruelty.

For instance, advocates have gathered extensive footage depicting illegal pig suffering in transport trucks outside Fearmans Pork, including pigs suffering from heat exhaustion and frostbite, and pigs arriving injured, dead, or dying. Federal authorities generally refuse to prosecute Fearmans or truckers for this suffering. Yet in 2015, the Halton Police charged Animal Save Movement founder Anita Krajnc with criminal mischief for giving water to thirsty pigs trapped inside a truck outside Fearmans Slaughterhouse on a sweltering day. She was acquitted following a much-publicized trial.

Police also regularly lay trumped-up criminal charges against animal advocates for acts that are not a criminal offence, such as going onto private property to expose hidden animal suffering on meat and fur farms. But law enforcement often goes easy on farmers responsible for abuse. Farms and slaughterhouses caught on hidden camera viciously abusing animals have never faced a single Criminal Code charge for animal cruelty in Ontario. Authorities generally don’t bother to prosecute at all, even when there is clear video evidence. On the rare occasions when charges are laid, they are always less serious provincial charges.

Regan Russell’s family is also calling for a coroner’s inquest into her brutal death. A coroner’s inquest is typically used to uncover broader, systemic issues responsible for a death. In the case of Fearmans Pork, the slaughterhouse had for years refused to negotiate a safety agreement with the Animal Save Movement to allow for safe and peaceful protests, and truckers who created safety risks had never been prosecuted.

Photo credit: Animal Save Movement

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