Joaquin Phoenix joined animal rights activists outside Burlington slaughterhouse

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The quest of animal rights activists to see a controversial Ontario “ag-gag” bill repealed got some star power on Friday with a visit from Joaquin Phoenix.

The Oscar-winning actor visited activists from Toronto Pig Save in front of Fearman’s Pork Inc. in Burlington. Phoenix held a sign that said “Fearman’s slaughterhouse showed me no mercy” in the spot where activist Regan Russell of Hamilton was hit and killed on June 19.

Phoenix stood alongside Russell’s husband, Mark Powell, and her stepson Joshua.

“I’m here to honour Regan Russell and all the animal activists who dedicate their lives to ending this injustice,” he said in a statement via the Animal Save Movement.

In that same statement, Joshua Powell said he and his dad “were stricken by [Phoenix’s] humble, courteous nature, and really appreciated the moments we had to talk with him and share stories about Regan.”

Phoenix, who is vegan, has been a vocal supporter of the Animal Save Movement, which started in 2010 with Toronto Pig Save and activist Anita Krajnc.

The movement, now in multiple countries, involves animal rights supporters “bearing witness” to animals en route to the slaughterhouse, including giving them water through trailer openings.

Phoenix participates in Los Angeles vigils. Last year, after winning an Academy Award for best actor for his role in Joker, he led media to a slaughterhouse where he gave water to animals being trucked into the facility. The next day, he rescued a mother cow and calf.

‘A lot of blind spots’

The presence of the activists in Burlington has been controversial.

The driver of the truck involved in Russell’s death has been charged under the Provincial Offences Act with careless driving causing death. Punishment for a conviction ranges from a fine to two years in jail.

Halton police have not released the driver’s name.

Joaquin Phoenix, centre, joined Mark Powell, right, and Josh Powell, Regan’s stepson, at Fearman’s Pork Inc. on Friday morning. (Toronto Pig Save/Save Movement)

Tyler Jutzi, co-owner of Brussels Transport in Bluevale, Ont., has said the man charged is one of his drivers. He started an online fundraiser for him.

“With a hundred thousand pound piece of equipment turned into a driveway, there’s a lot of blind spots,” Jutzi told CBC News in August.

‘Direct aim’

The GoFundMe page encourages people to talk to local MPPs, and says Halton Regional Police Service hasn’t enforced related laws.

“The activist problem has gone on far too long in front of Sofina Foods and these tactics are spreading to other locations,” it says. “Drivers get swarmed by activists in their blind spots and endure constant harassment in the workplace just to deliver the food that you eat.”

Jutzi said Monday there have also been “multiple threats of violence made by animal rights extremists” against his company and the drivers, “including threats of arson and death.”

“A U.S.-based group offered a reward for the identity and location of the driver, presumably to invite harassment and harm,” he said in an email. “Threats against our company and drivers have come through social media, have been shouted at drivers, or have been phoned in directly to our small, family-owned company.”

Toronto Pig Save wants the province to repeal Bill 156, the so-called “ag-gag” bill aimed at efforts to “stop, obstruct, hinder or otherwise interfere with a motor vehicle transporting farm animals.” Krajnc says it’s a “direct aim” at Toronto Pig Save’s vigils.

Since the bill was passed, Krajnc says, the relationship between drivers and people at vigils has become even more hostile.

In September, an activist at Fearman’s Pork Inc. became the first person charged under the new bill.

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