A group of ag and trucking industry representatives and supporters have organized events to counter the protesting tactics by animal rights activists at the Sofina Foods plant in Burlington
By Jackie Clark
Members of the agricultural and trucking industries, as well as other supporters, have begun holding counter-protests to rally support for transport drivers delivering pigs to a Sofina Foods processing plant in Burlington. These drivers are often subject to harassment from animal rights activists, ag and trucking industry supporters say.
“For several years, drivers delivering to Sofina have felt isolated in the seat of their trucks while being swarmed and harassed by activists,” Tyler Jutzi, a co-owner of Brussels Transport Ltd., told Farms.com in an e-mailed statement. “It’s important that the drivers are finally seeing the tremendous industry support behind them.”
The folks who show up to support the truckers “can see the fear in truck drivers’ eyes when they are pulling up” to the processing plant, Kristy Perrin told Farms.com.
She grew up working on pig farms and is now an account manager for Masterfeeds. She’s on the executive for the Ontario Pork Congress and has taken communications training through Ontario Pork. Her connection to this issue is both professional and personal. Her late husband was a truck driver and, last summer, she got her AZ license as well.
“My husband never had to deal with this stuff and I couldn’t imagine how he would deal with it,” she says. “You see trucks coming with pigs on their load that are perfectly fine because they’re (moving)… they’re calm, they’re relaxed.”
However, when the trucks stop at the traffic light, animal rights activists who have shown up to protest surround the trucks. This situation unsettles the pigs.
“it’s just not safe. It’s not safe for the pigs either. They come in calm and then, all of a sudden, you have 15 or 20 people sticking their arms in and throwing water in the trailer,” Perrin said. She has observed animal rights activists jump out in front of trucks and just assume the drivers will stop, or approach the vehicles without understanding blind spots.
Tragically, Regan Russell, a prominent animal rights activist, died after being struck by a transport truck during one such protest in late June.
The incident revealed that these types of situations are extremely unsafe and can result in tragic accidents that affect everyone present, including the driver himself, said Perrin. The stress from the protests takes a toll on the mental health of drivers.
“How long can they handle this stuff?” she asked. “How long can they handle their doors being opened, them being yelled at over a microphone?”
The ag and trucking industry supporters want drivers to be able to do the job safely, without anyone getting hurt.
“We just want (animal rights activists) to protest safely. Stay on the sidewalk, stop harassing our truck drivers,” Perrin said. When animal rights activists interfere with the trucks, “it’s highly illegal. It’s against the Highway Traffic Act. … It’s dangerous. We need Halton Region Police to step up and do their jobs.
“We know you’ll never get rid of the animal rights activists. It’s Canada, it’s one of our freedoms. But we need to do it safely.”
Drivers and their families were subject to threatening behaviour from animal rights activists after the accident, says truck owner/operator Michael Koch. He uses a GoPro camera to capture video of what it’s like to approach the plant as a driver.
“How can (animal rights activists) preach love and compassion … and yet commit the worst harassment I’ve ever encountered? I’d say (that) was the reason people started to take a stand,” Koch says.
The ag and truck counter-protesters have held two events thus far, with a third planned for Sept. 10.
“The most recent event on August 20 was a huge success,” Jutzi said. “The police wrote 29 tickets to the animal rights activists and zero tickets to the ag/trucking representatives. This clearly demonstrates that how the animal rights activists are demonstrating protest is illegal. Which begs the question – why haven’t the police been writing tickets all long?”
That demonstration had about 80 to 100 supporters, Perrin estimated.
“Our biggest message is that we need to get more farmers out to (witness) what happens,” Perrin said.
Producers may be nervous of retaliation from animal rights activists on their farms, but farmers should understand what happens after pigs leave their properties, she added. “You’re sending these pigs on a trailer with a driver who is just trying to do his job, and he’s not being able to do that safely,” she said.
The group organizing the counter-protests have dubbed themselves Agriculture Strong. Their mission “is to provide support and leadership for those who are unfairly targeted,” according to a document provide by Perrin. “We under no condition condone hate speech, targeted hurtful language or harassment.”
This group and their supporters “want to demonstrate that we agree with the Canadian right to legal protest. However, the protests held by the animal rights activists are not legal and they are not safe,” said Jutzi. “That’s what we want broader society to see. Animal rights activists are free to protest at Sofina if they wish, but it must be done safely from the sidewalk, not blocking traffic and certainly not harassing drivers in their legal workplace.”
When truck drivers see the counter-protesters, “you can see in their faces, they (feel) like ‘Finally, someone’s here, someone’s listening,’” said Perrin.
Ernie Hardeman, Ontario’s ag minister, introduced Bill 156, the Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act, in December 2019. Certain sections of the Act aimed at protecting livestock transporters, will come into effect on Sept. 2. Read more about the announcement here.
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