Last week, a judge in Canada dismissed charges against activist Anita Krajnc, who was arrested in 2015 after giving water to a thirsty pig bound for slaughter in Ontario. She faced up to six months in jail and a $5,000 fine. Her arrest and trial received international attention, and the group she started in 2010, Toronto Pig Save, has inspired similar groups within the animal “save” movement around the world. Anita was kind enough to chat with me about her trial and her activism and offer a few words of advice to other activists.
Congratulations on being acquitted of criminal mischief. Are you at all surprised by the verdict?
It’s an issue that really resonated with the public—that compassion is not a crime … that giving water to pigs is not a crime. I was actually hoping for a lot more, maybe some legal precedents, but that didn’t happen.
If you had been found guilty, would you have paid the fine?
I probably would not have paid it. I would have said, “It’s not right.”
Was there anything about the trial that surprised you?
Yes. I was impressed by Judge Harris, because he accepted all my lawyers’ defense as exhibits. Like, when they presented VR [virtual reality] headsets showing iAnimal from Animal Equality, he accepted that as evidence of how pigs are treated informed the work we do, including giving water to pigs. He accepted the 12-minute video, which was shown in court and shows pigs being electrically prodded into a gas chamber and shows one of the pigs trying to jump over the enclosure and the worker putting the prod in his ear. It was really gruesome evidence of how they’re treated.
He accepted another video, which showed pigs at Richard Hoyle’s Pig Preserve. I had shot a video where Richard talked about how pigs have 30 different vocalizations; they have 120 or more ways to communicate, when they combine a vocalization with a body posture or facial expression, like showing their tusks. He talked about how they formed groups, that they’re matriarchal, that they forage in the forest for berries and squash, that they like some types of grass.
So we’d gone over who pigs are in a more natural setting with their friends and family, and also how they’re treated.
The charges were dismissed, but it was because I did not interfere with property—the “property” being the pigs. I didn’t stop the truck. I didn’t prevent those pigs from being slaughtered. So the judge said I’m not guilty.
Will your activism change at all as a result of this trial?
It didn’t change our forms of activism at all, even after I was charged. I have since given water. Other people have given water to thirsty pigs. The trial has taken almost two years, and during that time we’ve continued to give water to thirsty pigs on hot days. But I was surprised the trial didn’t intimidate other people in our group. The first vigil we held after I was charged, people got right in front of me and started giving water. I thought, “OK, obviously it has not impacted people.” And, our movement has really grown a lot. At the beginning of 2016 there were about 50 groups, by the end of the year there’s 100, and there’s almost 150 now. So it’s growing exponentially. And it’s growing in interesting places. Like, there’s a Hong Kong Pig Save, and at their first vigil they gave water to pigs. There are two groups in Sweden, and they give water to pigs. There are four groups in South America now. One of the groups is called Save Movement Lima; at their first vigil a few weeks ago, they gave water to cows. There are almost 40 groups in the United Kingdom. So this idea of giving water to thirsty animals going to slaughter is an international phenomenon.
[In addition to the vigils, Anita explained they started doing vigils right in front of the slaughterhouse, where they unload the pigs.]
We were bearing witness to the poor pigs, who the workers were unloading with electric prods and paddles. We had two sites and doing three vigils a week, so it was a very intensive grassroots campaign, and it’s site specific, targeting one slaughterhouse.
When you look at the groups around the world, sometimes they use that strategy of bearing witness, and sometimes they use what they call a city vigil. It’s in the city, at an intersection, where the slaughterhouse trucks pass. They might not be able to get near a slaughterhouse, but they are at a busy intersection and they are raising public awareness about slaughterhouses in their communities.
Both of your attorneys, James Silver and Gary Grill, are vegan. Do you think that was important to your defense?
Yes. Both of them are vegan for 20 years or more, and they fought a very inclusive defense. They could have fought it in a very narrow way and just said, you know, I’m not guilty; I didn’t interfere. But instead they invited expert witnesses to talk about the environmental and health consequences of animal agriculture. They brought in Dr. Lori Marino, as well, to talk about the sentience and feelings and personhood of pigs. She said that the definition of a person is someone who is autonomous, self-aware, has complex emotions, and is sentient. She said that under that definition, pigs are persons, not property. Scientifically, and of course ethically, we know pigs are not property or objects—they are persons or beings. But in Harris’ judgment, which was presented in a very black-and-white way, he said they are property. It’s very sad. He had an opportunity to move the law, and basically he took a very conservative, procedural approach.
Their main defense was that I was acting in the public good. I was a good Samaritan doing what is right. But the judge dismissed that justification. Turns out the judge is a farmer—I just found this out. He came from a farming community. But he was still open-minded.
Do you think the media coverage impacted the public’s opinion of your activism?
I think it definitely increased support for what we’re doing. First of all, it increased awareness—people didn’t know. With the media coverage, the public actually got to look inside the trucks. The media was looping that incident of June 22nd [which prompted Anita’s arrest], which we fortunately videotaped. I said the pigs were dying of thirst, and the media would show a video clip of the poor pigs in that truck with open mouths, panting and foaming at the mouth. Clearly they were really, really thirsty.
Then the media would link to our videos. Water for Poor Angel Victims was one of the first videos we did in 2013, and the media linked to it and the views went up by 150,000. So there was way more support because they were spreading knowledge and information about what we do. For the first time, images of these pigs were getting out. So the images that you and I know so well began to infiltrate the mainstream. It’s been incredibly positive. And more people are getting involved, which has always been our objective. We don’t just want people to change their diet; we want them to become activists.
Speaking of activists, do you have any advice for people who are facing prosecution for compassionate actions like yours?
I think one should always follow their conscience. You feel good knowing that what you did was right. You can’t control what other people do, but you can control what you do. So you have to stand up for what you believe in. Historically, a lot of social movements have fought battles in the legal realm. You think of desegregation legal victories, pro choice legal victories. The law is one place, but what is clear is that what is ethical and what is legal is often very different. So it’s important to always be focused on what is ethical.
On the other hand, in terms of creating public awareness, our group was around since 2010, and we’ve been doing weekly vigils since July 2011. So we’ve done more than a thousand vigils just in the Toronto area. We got a little bit of media coverage here and there. When the trial happened, it was unbelievable. In the pre-trial stage, it became a national media story. From the standpoint of any activist who does this, we look at [the bearing witness vigils] and say, “Oh my God, if only the whole world could just see what we see. Look at these animals in the truck. If people just saw this, they would not participate in harming these animals.” But something like a trial is very easy for the media to cover. They are pressed by their advertisers to not cover our vigils. It’s harder for them. But when there’s a trial, it’s very easy for the mainstream media to cover it. I believe there’s good people in the media. By and large, the media coverage was really, really positive and supportive. Also, this case was a simple story: somebody is charged for an act of compassion. Not all cases will be this simple.
Was there anyone or anything that gave you strength or inspired you?
Definitely Leo Tolstoy. Throughout the trial I was reading him a lot. Particularly that point about one should just follow their conscience. Who you are is determined by your actions, not by what other people say. Whatever the outside environment is—whether it’s adverse or supportive—what matters is what you do. That’s the basic principle Tolstoy advanced, and I lived it. I was charged, but I wasn’t worried, because I did the right thing, no matter what the consequences were. And I will continue to do the right thing. I always said, I’m going to follow the Golden Rule, no matter what the court decides.