Weekly protest at the slaughterhouse 2 Favorite 



May 10 2012


Toronto, Canada
By Catherine Porter

I spent an hour Wednesday morning talking pigs and Leo Tolstoy on a traffic island outside the Princes' Gates.

Anita Krajnc and her group call this “Pig Island.” They come here most weeks to watch and photograph the pigs en route to their death at nearby Quality Meat Packers.

They call it bearing witness. That’s what Russian writer Leo Tolstoy did, Krajnc said, quoting him: “When the suffering of another creature causes you to feel pain . . . Come closer, as close as you can to him who suffers and try to help.”

Krajnc did her political science doctorate on social justice art. To call her a Tolstoy aficionado would be an understatement. She is a Tolstoy-ophile, a Tolstoy fountain. She could tell you 20 things about Tolstoy a minute.

Did you know he wrote pamphlets on prison reform and vegetarianism? Did you know he funded the resettlement of the pacifist Doukhobors — whose refusal to serve in the Russian military made them targets — to Canada?

I knew he was an exquisite writer — if you haven’t read Anna Karenina, for shame! — but I was in the dark on his social activism. Krajnc educated me: for Tolstoy, the purpose of art was to evoke brotherly love. He listed a bunch of literary examples in his book What Is Art. Krajnc has read them all. She's writing a book about it called Tolstoy’s List.

She was reading Romain Rolland’s biography of Tolstoy two winters ago when, out walking her newly adopted Beagle-Whippet one morning, she noticed the trucks roaring up Lake Shore Blvd. Ten of them in an hour, each three levels high, each sprouting little pink pig snouts. Tolstoy inspired her.

“When there was a famine, he started up soup kitchens for a year,” she said. “He took action.”

Krajnc’s action: Toronto Pig Save, an animal-rights activist group that gathers every Sunday afternoon outside Quality Meat Packers’ abattoir a few blocks away, on Wellington St. near Niagara St. They are secretaries and nurses and writers and vets, all holding up protest signs. Some are animal welfarists, protesting the conditions of pig farming, transport and butchering. Krajnc is a pig abolitionist.

“I agree with Gandhi who said, ‘The life of a goat is equal to the life of a man.’ I don’t want death camps on Earth,” said Krajnc, 45.

“Pigs are the fifth most intelligent species, after whales, dolphins, chimps and elephants . . . They are just like dogs. They wag their tails.”

A woman jogged by across the street, a black lab at her side. It was hard not to see Krajnc’s point.

We are surrounded by double standards and injustices. We work to not think about them. The Styrofoam and cellophane helps.

It’s harder, though, when face to snout with a mud-speckled pig. Or dozens of them, jammed on a three-level truck, stopped at a red light beside Pig Island. Through the holes in the side of the truck, I could see their curly tails, their soft ears, their spray-painted backs and when I crouched down and peered inside, their curious eyes.

This is the power of bearing witness, I realized. It cracks your practised indifference. Looking into the crowded truck, for a moment, I imagined myself trapped inside it.

Less than five minutes later, these pigs arrived at Quality Meat Packers, where they were prodded into a gas chamber. Then their throats were cut.

Quality Meat Packers is the second biggest pig abattoir in the province. Between 5,000 and 5,500 pigs are killed there every day, right in the middle of the city. There’s a dog park across the street.

Krajnc thinks the weekly vigils have had an effect. She told me about new converts to vegetarianism. She thinks the drivers are handling the pigs more humanely. The owner of one pig farm called her about a complaint she’d made to the Ontario Society for the Protection of Animals.

“He’s a Mennonite. I told him I appreciate the Mennonite devotion to non-violence. Tolstoy was also concerned about animals. I asked him, ‘Why don’t you extend your circle of compassion?’”

Nick Johnson, the vice-president of human resources at Quality Meat Packers, said the weekly vigils haven’t changed the company’s practices “in any way.” Calling the protesters respectful and sensible, he said the company supports their right to express themselves.

Except that Krajnc has been charged with criminal mischief and intervening with property, which means someone complained to the police.

She figures the mischief was touching the snouts of pigs passing by Pig Island. Or giving them water on a hot day last summer. Pigs, she told me, are more susceptible to both heat stroke and frost bite than humans.

“This is a nice day. You should see the tragedy of an extremely cold day. It’s like a scene out of Dickens,” she said. “They are so cold, they’re huddled together, they’re filthy. It’s right out of Oliver Twist.”

Dickens was big on Tolstoy’s list. All those poor orphans evoke compassion.

We stayed on Pig Island for 50 minutes. In that time, five truckloads of pigs passed by on their way to slaughter. By the time you read this, they will all be dead.
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