Every Monday, Mark Powell drives to the pork plant in Burlington, Ontario, where his wife died, to give water to pigs en route to the slaughterhouse.
That’s what Regan Russell did every week, until the day in June 2020 when a transport truck driver ran her over and killed her.
Police charged the driver with reckless driving causing death – a non-criminal provincial offense – because investigators said he had no criminal intent.
Two years later, with the case languishing in court and a trial date yet to be set, Powell says he has lost faith in the investigation and is turning to civil court to try to resolve it. to get answers about his wife’s death.
“I want to know what happened to my person,” Powell said.
Last week, he filed a $5 million lawsuit for her death. The truck driver, Andrew Blake, the trucking company, Brussels Transport, and Sofina Foods, the company that owns the Fearmans Pork processing plant, are among those named in the lawsuit.
The unproven allegation alleges their negligence resulted in Russell’s death.
The claim alleges that the driver failed to monitor properly and made a dangerous and improper turn. He also alleges that Brussels Transport failed to take steps to ensure the driver was competent and that Sofina failed to ensure the safety of pedestrians around Fearmans.
“As this matter is currently before the courts, we are unable to comment at this time other than to say that the allegations contained in the statement against Sofina are unproven and that Sofina will vigorously defend this case,” said Sofina. in an email.
Neither the trucker’s lawyer nor Brussels Transport responded to requests for comment.
Russell, a 65-year-old activist, protested outside the slaughterhouse west of Toronto on June 19, 2020, as she had done every week for years. She and a few friends, as part of the activist group Toronto Pig Save, protested controversial provincial legislation that had just been passed that increased fines for trespassing on farms and food processing facilities.
The bill also made it illegal to obstruct trucks transporting farm animals. The bill appeared, in part, to target Toronto Pig Save, whose advocates had for years filmed and watered pigs inside transport trucks as they neared slaughter. They call it “bearing witness”.
Since the death of his wife, Powell has lived with anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
He wasn’t there at the time, but Russell’s friends described how she died under a wheel of the truck. He saw the video of the aftermath.
“I see it every night when my head hits the pillow,” he said.
His friends wonder how he is doing.
“I had a little practice,” he said, his voice trailing off.
In 2014, Powell lost her 29-year-old son, Zachary. He can still see paramedics pounding his boy’s chest as he was carried on a stretcher into an ambulance. Zachary’s heart had dropped.
Powell uses the strength of his family to move forward after the losses.
He credits his other son, Joshua, for supporting him when he was down and helping him resume his wife’s decades-long fight for animal rights.
Last week, on Father’s Day, he and Joshua donated a bench to an animal shelter north of Toronto in honor of Russell. It reminds Powell of a bench in Zachary’s name in a Hamilton park.
He and Joshua also started the Regan Russell Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to keeping her voice alive by funding and supporting the battle against the bill she was fighting.
The foundation is trying to intervene in a constitutional challenge to the laws by Animal Justice.
“It gives us a way to fight bad legislation,” he said.
“I have hope and strength, I hope that something like this foundation will bring the voice of animals to the government and strength in knowing that Regan’s voice is heard.”
Every week activists gather to demonstrate outside Fearmans Pork. But now they stand on the embankment where trucks stop at lights – far from where Russell died – to give water to the pigs.
“I will always honor her and stand up for what she stood for until I died,” Powell said.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on June 25, 2022.