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Balancing the Right to Protest and the Need for Safety

Ontario-Agriculture

I want to provide an update to the community about safety measures being taken around the Fearmans pork processing plant in an effort to keep everyone safe, including protestors, truck drivers and employees, and those using the streets and sidewalks in this area. There has been some recent changes to legislation that will take effect today which I will detail below. First, some background and a comment on related principles…

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees our freedom of expression, freedom of association, and the freedom of peaceful assembly. It is a core pillar of our democracy and one I will always defend. As Burlington’s Mayor, I support this right and part of doing so involves working with local agencies like the Halton Regional Police Service and relevant community groups to ensure this expression can take place in a safe way for everyone involved.

This past June, a protester lost her life while expressing her support of veganism and animal rights here in Burlington outside the Fearmans (Sofina Foods) processing plant at Harvester Road and Appleby Line. Her name was Regan Russell of Hamilton, Ontario. The impact of this death extends to her family and friends, as well as all those who were present that day and many caring community members. We need to work together to make sure that what happened to Regan Russell never happens again.

Additional sections of the Security From Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act will be going into effect today, making it an offence to stop, obstruct, hinder or otherwise interfere with a motor vehicle transporting farm animals. Even since Regan’s death, I continue to get calls, emails and photographs from local community members on a regular basis that clearly show protesters standing in live lanes of traffic near this processing plant, approaching delivery trucks and giving water to the pigs inside the trucks while on the roadway or standing in front of trucks, temporarily blocking their ability to enter the plant. These concerned community members are reaching out because they worry for the safety of the protesters and all other drivers and pedestrians in the area. They fear another accident will happen and are demanding action be taken to prevent it. I understand their concerns and want to help.

Protests are allowed where they remain on public property, and it remains illegal to trespass on private property, even during a protest. We need to work together to ensure these protests take place safely on the sidewalks and do not place any protesters, drivers or pedestrians in danger. We want to avoid situations where the police need to charge protesters with an offence and deal with very costly penalties.

Based on my conversations with police this morning, it appears that protesters are most often following the legislation, staying out of traffic and not approaching or blocking trucks, however, we have received resident reports that some have been observed spraying the animals with water. A separate section in the proposed legislation deals with not interfering with animals in any way, which would prevent spraying them with anything, but that has not yet been enacted. There have been requests made to the Ministry to explore enacting that piece sooner as well, to provide clarity that no interaction with animals is possible. A

As Police Chief Stephen Tanner said today in their press release on the matter,

“We are fully aware of the growing concerns regarding the safety of individuals who obstruct the transportation of livestock and interfere with farm animals. We recognize the right for people to protest, but that right does not include dangerously obstructing vehicles at food processing facilities. While there may be an opportunity for a graduated educational approach in the early stages of this new legislation, enforcement will be utilized as soon as necessary. We are thankful for this new legislation from the Province of Ontario designed to ensure safety of livestock and also of protesters, truckers and all involved in the transportation of livestock.”

I have also reached out today to the Toronto Pig Save organization to share my thoughts and concerns, and look to partner with them on proactive safety measures as well.

I am confident we can all work together to support the right to protest and balance it with the safety and security of everyone in our community, including people who live, work or visit us.

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2 thoughts on “Balancing the Right to Protest and the Need for Safety”

  1. I’m all for free and fair protesting, but some measure of safety needs to be enforced. The pig protestors standing on the roadway island are, in my honest opinion, a risk to themselves and a traffic distraction. No one wants to see any needless harm because of this type of action.

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Marianne Meed Ward

Marianne Meed Ward

A Better Burlington began in 2006 after my neighbours said they felt left out of city decisions, learning about them only after they’d been made. As journalist for 22 years, I thought “I can do something about that” and a website and newsletter were born. They’ve taken various forms and names over the years, but the intent remains: To let you know what’s happening at City Hall before decisions are made, so you can influence outcomes for A Better Burlington. The best decisions are made when elected representatives tap the wisdom of our community members, and welcome many different perspectives.This site allows residents to comment and debate with each other; our Commenting Guidelines established in 2016 aim to keep debate respectful. Got an idea or comment you want to share privately? Please, get in touch:

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