June 25, 2020

The First Deadly Consequence

When I was young, I didn’t believe politicians actually led. I didn’t believe that legislation was a particular source of change. I thought that change happened mainly in societies and later changes that were already happening were codified into law. Later, I came to understand what politicians said mattered and that laws could affect change that was not occurring in broader society. Tough drinking and driving legislation and mandatory seat belt laws led to a culture change. The protections enshrined in the constitution led to changes that have become more or less givens in our culture. It seems clear to me what politicians say and do and the laws they pass can have a profound effect on our culture and our society.

Alarmingly, I am now seeing the dark side of this. Today, what politicians say and do and the laws they pass are bringing out the worst in people — enflaming and reinforcing their prejudices, their anger, their hatred.

On June 19, a peaceful protester was struck and killed by the driver of a transport truck delivering pigs to a slaughterhouse in Burlington Ontario. Her name was Regan Russell. She was 65 years old and a long-time activist.

On June 17, just two days before, with little debate and just two days of public consultation, Ontario’s Conservative majority rammed through Bill 156. The law prohibits forms of peaceful protest that Regan Russell was doing. It outlaws whistleblowing on factory farms and slaughterhouses. Moreover, it limits the liability of animal transport drivers for “injury, loss or damages suffered… (by protesters).” 

The law, in the words of lawyer Camille Labchuk of Animal Justice, “…covers up conditions that can cause zoonotic diseases, unsafe work environments, and animal cruelty will have deadly consequences for humans and animals alike.” What Ms. Labchuk could not have known was that the first deadly consequence for humans would be the death of Regan Russell.

Is there a connection between the passage of Bill 156 and the tragic death of Regan Russell? Did the passage of the bill and the political rhetoric around it fuel an already tense situation to the extreme? I can’t prove it — but I see this connection over and over in the past several years and will go to my grave believing it.

Bruce Roney
President & CEO