Canada

‘I will always honour her’: Husband files lawsuit in Ontario animal activist’s death

Mark Powell drives every Monday to the Burlington pork plant in Ontario, where his wife was killed. He gives water to the pigs as they go to slaughter.

It’s what Regan Russell did every week, until one day in June 2020 when a transport truck driver drove over her and killed her.

Police charged the driver with careless driving causing death — a non-criminal provincial offence — because investigators said he did not have criminal intent.

Two years later, with the case languishing in court and no trial date yet set, Powell says he has lost faith in the probe and is turning to civil court to try to get answers about his wife’s death.

“I want to know what happened to my person,” Powell said.

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He filed a $5 million lawsuit last week over her death. Andrew Blake, the truck driver and Brussels Transport, the trucking company that owns Fearmans Pork, are some of the names in the suit.

The claim, which is unproven, alleges that Russell’s death was caused by negligence.

The claim claims that the driver did not maintain a proper watch and made an unsafe turn. It also alleges that Brussels Transport failed take steps to ensure that the driver was competent. Also, Sofina failed safety for pedestrians around Fearmans.

“Given that this matter is currently before the courts, we are not able to make a comment at this time other than to say that the allegations contained in the statement of claim against Sofina are unproven and Sofina will vigorously defend this matter,” Sofina said in an email.

Neither the truck driver’s lawyer, nor Brussels Transport, responded to requests for comment.

Russell, a 65 year-old activist, demonstrated outside the Toronto slaughterhouse west on June 19, 2020. This was as she has done every week for years. As part of the activist group Toronto Pig Save she was joined by some friends to protest controversial provincial legislation that increased fines for trespassing at farms and food-processing plants.

It was also illegal to block trucks transporting farm animals. The bill was partly intended to target Toronto Pig Save. For years, Toronto Pig Save advocates had filmed and given water for pigs in transit trucks as they were about to be slaughtered. They call it “bearing witness.”

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Since his wife’s death, Powell has lived with anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

He wasn’t there at the time, but Russell’s friends have described how she died under a wheel of the truck. He’s seen video of the aftermath.

“I see it every night when my head hits the pillow,” he said.

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His friends are curious about his mental state.

“I’ve had some practice,” he said, his voice trailing off.

Powell lost his 29 year-old son, Zachary, in 2014. He can still see the paramedics pounding on his boy’s chest as he was wheeled on a gurney into an ambulance. Zachary’s heart had given out.

Powell is using his family’s strength to move on after the losses.

Joshua, his son, is what he credits for helping him to get up when he was weak and for helping him to continue the decades-long battle for animal rights his wife started.

Last week on Father’s Day, he and Joshua donated a bench at an animal sanctuary north of Toronto to honour Russell. It reminds Powell of a bench in Zachary’s name in a Hamilton park.

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Joshua and he also founded the Regan Russell Foundation, which is a non-profit organization that supports and funds the fight against the bill she was fighting.

The foundation is seeking to intervene in a constitutional dispute to the laws of Animal Justice.

“It gives us a vehicle to fight bad legislation,” he said.

“I have hope and strength, hope that something like that foundation puts a voice for animals on the floor of government and strength knowing that Regan’s voice is being heard.”

Every week, activists protest Fearmans Pork. But now they stand on the median where the trucks stop at the lights — away from the spot where Russell died — to give water to the pigs.

“I will always honour her and I will stand for what she stood for until I die,” Powell said.

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