When Pigs Fly – Toronto animal rights activists
May 3, 2017 — City Life is proud to report that the mischief charge against Anita Krajnc has been dismissed — a judge ruled Krajnc not guilty on May 3, 2017. In 2015, Anita Krajnc was arrested for giving water to thirsty pigs that were being transported for slaughter. Krajnc’s case has attracted advocates and supporters around the globe.
In 2015, Anita Krajnc was arrested for giving water to thirsty pigs being transported for slaughter. But the charge backfired, inspiring thousands around the world to join her movement. Today, as she awaits her final verdict, Krajnc celebrates the rise of the movement that the world never thought would catch on.
I’ve never seen a complexion like Anita Krajnc’s before.
Despite a grey and weepy sky, the 49-year-old is luminous as she walks toward the gathering of 10 animal activists outside Fearmans Pork in Burlington, Ont., where they meet biweekly for morning vigils. Framed by silvered strands of hair, Krajnc’s face tells stories of sadness and hope without her lips moving at all.
And damn, is her skin ever perfect.
It’s admittedly a shallow first impression of the now famous founder and lead organizer of Toronto Pig Save, but my meat-eater’s mind can’t help but wonder off the bat if perhaps the vegans are right — that a plant-based lifestyle really is better for you, inside and out. But I soon learn that it’s not only the health benefits of veganism that have instilled this glow in Krajnc, who has a PhD in political science. It’s the emotional valour that comes with being a champion for her growing cause.
You’ve probably heard of Krajnc, or at least of her brainchild, the Toronto Pig Save, whose mission is pretty self-explanatory. It’s the group that initiated the global Save Movement, which fights peacefully but passionately for the fair treatment of all animals. But as well-known as the Toronto Pig Save has become, it really gained momentum in June of 2015, when Anita was charged with criminal mischief for giving water to thirsty pigs that were being transported for slaughter.
It was a hot summer morning and things were going as usual for Krajnc. She and her group were gathered at this very intersection, waiting for the arrival of the trucks, each one filled with 200 terrified pigs.
The trucks came, and as they were stalled at a red light the group flocked to them, as usual. Through the holes in the metal, the creatures were foaming at the mouth, frantically pushing their way toward their visitors so they could catch a sip of water or even just a friendly face. Krajnc obliged them. And that’s when the truck driver parked his vehicle, right there in the middle of the intersection, and emerged, yelling profanity-strewn threats at Krajnc and her group.
After the heated exchange, the driver got back into his truck and carried on, and Krajnc didn’t hear anything of it for a few weeks. Then a police officer knocked on her door with a summons to court — she was facing a $5,000 fine and up to six months in jail for the altercation.
“I invited the officer into my home to show him some of our videos,” she says. “He was reluctant at first, but finally he came in, and when he saw our footage he basically said, ‘I have to be neutral, but this is going to be big news.’”
He was correct.
By the time fall rolled around, the charges laid on Krajnc had backfired catastrophically. Anita says that while the charges were most likely laid to try and scare the Save Movement and make a statement out of her, the opposite happened inspiring the movement to gain incredible momentum. National news channels and papers all picked up the story of the woman who was facing jail time for showing compassion to dying animals — and that coverage soon snowballed into the global media.
“It’s killing our planet, it’s killing ourselves and it’s killing these innocent creatures that want to live”
It’s over a year later, and while some trials have taken place, Krajnc’s final court hearing won’t happen until spring of 2017. None of the Crown’s allegations against her have been proven in court. For now, she’s happy that her movement has sparked more than 80 other Save groups around the world — with 21 in Britain alone — and that her cruelty-free mission is catching on. It’s a feat that, 10 years ago, was unheard of.
Fast-forward to this rainy autumn day where, despite the chilly weather, Krajnc and her 10 activists are happy to be here — cheerful, even. Holding signs that have photos of puppies and pigs and read, “Why love one but eat the other?”, they’re not obnoxious. This isn’t a protest. Krajnc explains that this movement is about sending a love-based message.
Soon, the first truck rolls up. As the 18-wheeler stops at the red light, Krajnc and her group flock to its side, water bottles in hand, and tend to the pink snouts poking out of the holes in the metal. Peering in, one can see a quivering mass of bleeding pigs, all of them foaming at the mouth from fear and dehydration, with a look of very human terror in their eyes. The Save members murmur words of reassurance to the creatures, who gratefully lap up whatever water they can. As they work, the Save members tell their little friends, “We see you, we love you and we promise to fight for you.” Then the light turns green, and the truck disappears behind the smoke-spewing fortress of the slaughterhouse.
“Our main strategy is bearing witness,” says Krajnc. “Tolstoy said that when the suffering of another creature causes you to feel pain, don’t succumb to the usual desire to flee from the suffering one, but on the contrary, come closer, as close as you can, and try to help. And that’s the definition of bearing witness.”
Like most vegans, Krajnc used to be a meat- and dairy-eater. And like most carnivores, she lived the first 20 years of her life completely oblivious to the reality of the animal farming industry. It wasn’t until the early ’90s, when she watched a documentary called The Animals Film, that veganism became not only her lifestyle, but
“That film changed my life,” she says. After earning her PhD, she became a professor at Queen’s University, teaching youth the ins and outs of triggering and coordinating social movements.
It wasn’t until 2010, when she adopted her beagle-whippet mix Mr. Bean, that the Toronto Pig Save came to fruition. Krajnc and Mr. Bean were out for a walk one morning in downtown Toronto when a truck of pigs rolled past them on Lakeshore Ave., en route to a now-closed slaughterhouse. Having caught a glimpse of the truck’s innards, Krajnc was shocked. Her shock quickly turned into disgust — and an intense desire to do something. And that was when the idea for the Save Movement was born.
While Krajnc’s mission originated in saving the pigs, the organization has since expanded to support other farm animals, too: the Toronto Chicken Save hosts vigils in north Toronto every Thursday evening, and the Toronto Cow Save meets every Tuesday morning near Keele St. and St. Clair Ave. All under the umbrella of the Save Movement, these groups are stirring up the public’s awareness of animal cruelty, and opening eyes to the fact that slaughterhouses aren’t the only problem — it’s the production of any animal byproduct, from eggs to milk to cheese.
According to the United Nations, going vegan is one of the most effective ways to reduce greenhouse gases and pollution, to halt reforestation and to conserve resources. For example: researchers from the University of California, Riverside determined that getting a single charbroiled burger to your plate causes as much pollution as an 18-wheeler being driven for 230 kilometres. On the flipside, Loma Linda University researchers found that vegans have the smallest carbon footprint of all, producing 43 per cent less greenhouse gases than meat-eaters and 13 per cent less than vegetarians.
“What is wrong in our current world is the 70 billion land animals that are going to slaughter and the trillions of sea creatures that are being killed each year,” says Krajnc. “It’s killing our planet, it’s killing ourselves and it’s killing these innocent creatures that want to live.”
In 2003, University of Cambridge professor Donald Broom released a study called “The Evolution of Morality and Religion” in which he assessed the cognitive abilities of domestic animals like cattle, sheep and pigs. According to Professor Broom, pigs have the intellect of a three- to four-year-old child.
“They have a language,” says Krajnc. “They have 40 vocalizations, and if you combine their facial expressions and body posture, they have over a hundred different types of communication.”
“DO NOT SUBMIT to the INITIAL desire to flee from the suffering one, but on the contrary, come closer, as close as you can, and try to help”
And then there are, of course, the health benefits of a plant-based diet. One look at a longtime plant-eater and it’s clear that there’s something deeply detoxifying about removing meat from your meal plan. Studies show that vegans are less likely to suffer from obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, strokes and other health problems. And the amount of cash vegans save by cutting pricey chicken, beef and pork from their menus is probably enough to make them glow on the inside and out, too.
Throughout the two hours we spend at that intersection outside the slaughterhouse, 12 trucks roll by, each one eventually reappearing empty. But despite the seemingly unstoppable system, and despite the challenges that have been tossed in her path, Krajnc is steadfast, always meditating on that gem of a line from Tolstoy: Don’t flee from suffering. Draw closer to it and bear witness.
A few weeks after our interview, Krajnc has another court date in Burlington, during which an expert witness, Professor Tony Weis, testifies on the planetary destruction caused by animal agriculture. Coincidentally, it’s also World Vegan Day. Hundreds gather outside the courthouse, where Toronto Pig Save stages an all-day vigil, complete with cruelty-free refreshments, talks from experts and even a celebrity appearance from Maggie Q. The emotionally charged gathering is a testament to the reach of the Save Movement, which has expanded beyond Krajnc’s — and most vegans’ — wildest dreams.
Veganism tackles an issue that challenges humanity’s most primal tendencies, providing a voice to the voiceless and educating people on the many little-known downsides to their cheeseburger. It’s a worldview that was once seen as radical — but as Canadians and folks around the globe continue to embrace the truth behind the movement, it’s becoming more possible that one day, we’ll all glow the way Krajnc does.
Photos by Carlos A. Pinto / Dolce Media Group