On June 26, Academy Award-winning vegan actor Joaquin Phoenix joined more than 100 animal-rights activists at a vigil to honor Regan Russell at the Smithfield-owned Farmer John slaughterhouse in Vernon, CA. On June 19, Russell—who has been fighting for animal rights since 1979—was killed by a transport truck carrying pigs to slaughter outside of Fearmans Pork in Burlington, Ontario, Canada. The 65-year-old activist was part of a Toronto Pig Save (an arm of the larger Animal Save Movement) event, where a group of activists gave water to pigs as they headed for slaughter, which she was doing when the truck killed her. In addition to animal rights, Russell was a longtime activist for racial justice, gender equality, and other human rights issues. 

“Regan Russell spent the final moments of her life providing comfort to pigs who had never experienced the touch of a kind hand,” Phoenix said. “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.”

On June 17, new ag-gag legislation Bill 156 passed in Ontario banning activists from “interacting” with farmed animals to document their abuse and prohibiting “persons from interfering with a motor vehicle that is transporting farm animals and from interfering or interacting with the farm animals in the motor vehicle without the prior consent of the driver of the motor vehicle.” Russell, who regularly attended local vigils, intended for the June 19 event—the day she was killed—to be her last peaceful protest until the law could be overturned. 

“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,” Phoenix said. “My heart goes out to the Toronto Animal Save community and to Regan’s lifelong partner, Mark Powell.”

Since Russell’s death, Powell has hired a lawyer to fight for justice for his wife and to overturn the new ag-gag legislation. “In pursuing justice, we have this to say; it does not end with a senseless death or a major meat distributor,” Powell said. “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.” 

On Saturday, the Animal Save Movement held a memorial which brought together a group of more than 220 activists and family members at the site where Russell was killed in Ontario, where many vowed to fight to overturn Bill 156. Russell’s stepson, Joshua Powell, has created a “Justice for Regan” crowdfunding campaign, all funds of which will be used to carry on Russell’s legacy. 

Local police are still investigating the circumstances surrounding Russell’s death and no charges have been filed.

Photo Credit: Robert Sud

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