A Municipality of North Perth truck driver has pleaded guilty to careless driving causing the death of Regan Russell.
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Andrew Blake appeared in an Ontario court via video to submit his plea to the Highway Traffic Act offence.
Russell, a 65-year-old animal rights activist, was run over on June 19, 2020, during a demonstration outside the Sofina Fearmans Pork facility in Burlington as a semi-trailer pulled into the plant.
Russell was a regular protester at the plant, where trucks are often stopped by protesters and pigs given water.
The Crown prosecutor read an agreed statement of facts which said Blake, who was 28 at the time, should have been aware Russell was standing in the eventual path of his truck, near the driveway, when he turned into the facility.
The court fined Blake $2,000, 12 months probation and a driving restriction preventing him from making non-essential trips.
Before Russell’s death, Blake had a spotless record on the road, lawyers told the court, and police determined no evidence of criminal intent.
Toronto Pig Save activists stood outside the courthouse holding banners and posters with Russell’s name and face on them while her elderly parents delivered a victim impact statement inside.
“As painful as the whole thing is for us to lose a daughter, he has pain for the rest of his life, too,” Pat Russell told CTV News.
Russell’s parents, who are in their 90s, said they’d suffered a devastating loss of a beloved daughter and caregiver.
“That’s about as much justice as we can get,” said Russell’s father, Bill, on a CTV news report. “The admission that he made is the truth. And that’s a fact.”
While Russell’s parents view the incident as a terrible accident, her partner Mark Powell believes police should have laid dangerous driving charges against the driver.
In June 2022, frustrated with court delays, Powell launched a $5 million lawsuit naming Blake, Brussels Transport and Sofina Foods, the parent company of the Fearmans Pork processing facility, in the suit. The unproven claim alleges negligence on their part led to Russell’s death.
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At the time of the incident, the Ontario Livestock Transporters’ Alliance, Ontario Pork and Sofina, in conjunction with the Halton Regional Police Service, had spent four years attempting to find an appropriate solution to ensure the safety of all involved.
“The Ontario Livestock Transporters’ Alliance (OLTA) has, and continues to be, extremely concerned about the safety of the protestors, our drivers, and the animals they are transporting if protestors approach or touch the trucks and trailers,” said Susan Fitzgerald, OLTA executive director.
The Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act, 2020, sections 6(1), 7, 14(1), 3 and 15(1), protecting trucks from interference, came into force in September 2020. Section 6(1) made it an offence to interfere with a motor vehicle transporting farm animals, including stopping, obstructing, hindering, or interfering with livestock transportation.
“This was a tragic situation. The Ontario pork industry relies on livestock transporters to get animals safely to market,” said Stacey Ash, Ontario Pork spokesperson. “For the safety of people and animals, we strongly support the Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act, including important sections that prohibit interference with livestock trailers.”