Woman who gave water to pigs acted in public good like Gandhi Nelson Mandela, says lawyer

A Toronto woman who gave water to pigs on a truck headed to slaughter committed an act of kindness similar to when people gave water to Jews transported on cattle trains during the Holocaust, her lawyer said in closing arguments at her trial Thursday.

Defence lawyer Gary Grill also compared Anita Krajnc's actions — and the resulting legal battle —to the experiences of historic rights activists such as Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Susan B.Anthony.

 "Anita is acting in the public good," Grill told a packed courtroom in Burlington, Ont.

'It is clear that the public has an interest in fostering the good actions of others.' - Defence lawyer Gary Grill

Lawyers presented closing arguments in the Burlington, Ont., mischief trial of Krajnc, an activist with Toronto Pig Save. She pleaded not guilty to mischief after pouring bottled water through the openings of a trailer filled with pigs outside Fearman's Pork Inc. in June 2015.

The truck was coming from Eric Van Boekel's Oxford County hog farm. The activists approached the trailer. A video taken by Toronto Pig Save shows the pigs are crowded and panting.

During the six-day trial last fall, witnesses included experts in animal behaviour and footage of slaughterhouses.

Agricultural organizations and Halton police say Krajnc was tampering with someone else's property, and that the driver had no way of knowing the liquid was water. Krajnc has said she was operating in the public good, and therefore not committing mischief.

If found guilty, Krajnc could face a $5,000 and jail time. The singer Moby has offered to pay her fine. Justice David Harris will render a verdict on May 4.

Though pigs are not recognized as persons under law, they have the same capacity to suffer as humans, Grill argued.

 "It is clear that the public has an interest in fostering the good actions of others," he said.

Intense attention

Grill equated the suffering of the pigs to the suffering of Jews in Nazi Germany, saying people use the same justification to turn away from both.

"A pig is the same as a human, and the offence we commit in relation to a pig in causing that suffering is the same gravity as the offence we create to a human who suffers the same way," he said afterward.

Treating suffering animals different from suffering humans, he told the judge, "is the same justification of the historical mistreatment of others based on irrelevancies such as skin colour, gender, sexual orientation."

The trial has attracted intense attention from animal activists. 

Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), called it a "landmark case."

"We're hoping this pivotal moment will wake people up," she said outside the courtroom.

Crowded courtroom

The courtroom was so full that some sat on the floor during the proceedings while reporters squeezed into the prisoner's box.

Krajnc's supporters also rallied outside the courthouse before and after the hearing, some hoisting signs with various slogans promoting animal rights.

A group of protesters was also seen outside Fearmans slaughterhouse on Thursday morning.

The Crown has argued that the pigs were the property of a farmer, and Krajnc was interfering with his property when she gave them water, even if the pigs weren't hurt in any way.

What was the harm?

Prosecutor Harutyun Apel said that in the view of the farmer and the truck driver, the pigs were given an "unknown substance" which could have prevented them from being slaughtered.

"Why does the farmer have to take the chance or the risk that it may not be water?" he said.

 But Justice David Harris said there was no evidence that the liquid was anything but water, and asked repeatedly whether it counted as interfering if there was no harm to the pigs, which were still taken to slaughter.

"The alleged offence is not upsetting the driver or the owner," or creating uncertainty in their minds, he said.

'This is the fight of my life.' - Anita Krajnc

Krajnc was also arrested last October, this time at the scene of an accident where another truck full of pigs headed to the same pork plant flipped over in Burlington.

In October, outside Fearmans Pork Plant, the squeals of injured pigs filled the air after a truck rolled over near the plant. Workers walked the surviving animals across a parking lot to the nearby plant where they were to be slaughtered.

Police said 40 of the 180 pigs in the truck died in the crash. Halton police say Krajnc was arrested Wednesday for "obstructing police," but called the rest of the demonstration "largely peaceful."

 Speaking after the hearing, the 49-year-old said she was moved by the comparisons to such noteworthy figures.

 "This is the fight of my life. I'm going to spend the rest of my life fighting for the rights of animals until they're considered equal just like the rest of us," she said.

Krajnc, who is set to be sentenced on May 4, said outside court she is "perfectly fine" with facing jail time or a fine if convicted.

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samantha.craggs@cbc.ca | @SamCraggsCBC

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