Toronto woman charged after giving water to pigs shares her side of the story

A photo of a pig inside a transport truck taken by Krajnc's group during a 'vigil.' (Toronto Pig Save)
A photo of a pig inside a transport truck taken by Krajnc's group during a 'vigil.' (Toronto Pig Save)

This week, Anita Krajnc will appear in a Milton, Ont. court to answer to charges of criminal mischief for giving water to pigs being transported to an Ontario slaughterhouse. The incident happened the morning of June 22, when Krajnc, co-founder of Toronto Pig Save and The Save Movement, was holding one of her group’s regular nonviolent protests outside the Fearman’s Pork processing plant in Burlington, Ont.

During the protest—or vigil, as the Pig Save group calls their events— activists typically take photographs and videos of animals as their trucks enter the slaughterhouse, hold candles after dark, wave signs with pro-vegan messages, and try to raise awareness about what the group considers an immoral industry. Groups might range in size from 10 to 30 people, or more than 200 over the course of a 24-hour vigil, which are held monthly. On the day in question, Krajnc approached a truck carrying pigs while it was parked at a set of traffic lights to enter the plant. In a video captured by a fellow activist and now circulating widely on social media, Krajnc can be seen asking the driver to give the pigs some water and reaching into the truck with a water bottle herself.

The driver of the truck then jumps out of his cab, asking Krajnc to stop. Krajnc quotes a passage from the Bible about giving water to those who are thirsty. To that the driver responds, “These are not humans, you dumb frickin’ broad.” Then the driver complains that he didn’t know what was in the bottle. How could he be sure that it wasn’t more than water? (Could activists be intentionally poisoning the meat supply as a scare tactic?) Krajnc offers him a sample, but the driver phones 911 instead.

The police didn’t show up that day, but the farmer who owned the pigs —Eric Van Boekel of Van Boekel Hog Farms, who has in the past pleaded guilty and paid a fine for dumping pig manure into Ontario’s Thames River— decided to press charges anyway. Krajnc was notified of the court case at her Toronto apartment in mid-September.

Since then, Krajnc has become a minor celebrity on social media, where numerous groups around the world have picked up her cause. Supporters have created Instagram and Facebook community pages using the hashtag #compassionisnotacrime and #StandbyAnita, and launched petitions.

We spoke to Krajnc, who holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of Toronto, about the Save movement and the charges she’s facing.

Yahoo Canada: When did you first become committed to saving animals?

Anita Kranjc: I’d always been involved in various movements, environmental or political causes, but I began Pig Save, which later was expanded to Toronto Cow Save and Toronto Chicken Save, when I adopted a dog for my mother nearly five years ago. I used to walk the dog, Mr. Bean, along Lakeshore Road in downtown Toronto every day and I would see these transport trucks filled with pigs going into the slaughterhouse. I lived near a slaughterhouse, too, so I could hear the animals, and it was horrible. I began to think about how much I loved my dog, and questioned why we love one animal and eat another. I had taught a course about community organizing at Queens University, so I knew from studying the movements started by people like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi that successful nonviolent movements always begin with an intensive on-the-ground campaign. You have to be on the street regularly, building support. You can’t sit behind a computer. More than four years ago, I decided I would commit to three vigils per week – for pigs, cows, and chickens— at the Toronto slaughterhouses, and I’ve kept that promise.

Now we have 43 Save groups, including Cow Save and Chicken Save groups, in Canada, the U.S., Australia, Italy, and Brazil.

YC: What exactly happens at one of your events?

AK: We meet as a group and we bear witness to the animals who are being delivered to the slaughterhouse. We see the animals as individuals, not property, and we see their suffering; we believe it’s important to witness it. It’s extremely difficult work and it takes a toll. I often feel guilty for not being able to do more.

A group of women attend a Pig Save event in Burlington, Ont. (Anita Krajnc)
A group of women attend a Pig Save event in Burlington, Ont. (Anita Krajnc)

At the all-day vigils, we have vegan celebrities come, or we host live music, and we share vegan treats. When the trucks arrive, we offer water or sometimes food to the animals. Most of the drivers and farmers don’t give the animals water because they’re not obligated to by law. In Canada, pigs can be transported for 36 hours without food or water, and cows for 54 hours, which is outrageous. Europe is way ahead of us on this stuff.

Usually the truck drivers don’t say anything to us. We’ve even had police stop the trucks as we give the animals water.

YC: How do the pigs or cows react to your group?

AK: Sometimes you’ll get a truck of pigs who have bad experiences with humans in the past and they’re too terrified to react to us. We had one truck where we gave the pigs watermelon and they didn’t respond at all. They were filthy and dejected. Other times they come right up to us because they’re so dehydrated and they want the water. I see pigs the same way I see my dog: they're intelligent and they know what's going on, and they're terrified. Still, the whole time that we’ve been doing this, not one pig has ever tried to bite anyone.

Cows are often too frightened to take our apples or water, which I think may be why it’s always the pig videos that tend to go viral.

YC: The news about your court case is huge on social media. What kind of responses have you had?

AK: I’ve been really stunned by the reaction we’ve had. There are petitions circulating with tens of thousands of signatures and Facebook pages launched by people I don’t even know. It’s been so helpful, because I’d be very upset and stressed out about this case, but now I’m not as worried. I can see how it has backfired for them, and I’m getting support from around the world. People are talking about the issues: Why is it legal to break into a hot car to save a dog but it’s not okay to help these dehydrated animals?

Of course, we’ve also received negative attention and threats, but that’s what people do when you are forcing them to look at something they’re doing that’s wrong, when they don’t want to change.

YC: What are you expecting when you go to court? What does the law say?

AK: The charges could be dropped, or I could be asked to pay a fine and admit my guilt, but I won't do it. I'd rather go to jail than say I did the wrong thing. Compassion is not a crime.

YC: Is there a way for the animals to be treated more humanely in the meat industry? Is that partly what this is about?

AK: That's not our goal. There are animal welfare groups and we support some of them, but that's not what we’re working toward. I believe we all need to live in unity on the planet and share our resources. That’s the only way it’s going to work for everyone. To us, there's no humane way to kill a somebody.

YC: Do you expect any change in the way farm animals are treated under the law with the new government in Ottawa?

AK: Yes, I hope so. It couldn't be worse than under [outgoing Prime Minister Stephen] Harper, who created all kinds of subsidy programs for factory farms and to make it easier for people to run slaughterhouses efficiently. We're hoping that the new government will redirect that money toward support and promotion of fruits and veggies, which is what we should be eating.