Update: Anita Krajnc has been acquitted of her charge of criminal mischief.
The trial of a Toronto animal-rights activist in Burlington, Ont., has become a global cause célèbre for opponents of the meat industry, with the head of PETA and a famous musician pledging support and dozens of backers crowding into the courtroom on Monday.
Anita Krajnc, a member of Toronto Pig Save, is charged with criminal mischief for giving water to pigs in a truck on their way to a slaughterhouse last June. She admits to giving water to the animals, but she contends that it was not illegal.
Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), came to Burlington for Ms. Krajnc’s testimony and said her group’s five million members were closely following the case.
Ms. Krajnc and her lawyer, Gary Grill, have attempted to turn the trial into an exposé of the pork industry, a tactic that has earned attention from the global animal-rights movement.
“All eyes are on Burlington,” said Ms. Newkirk, a divisive figure who has presided over controversial media campaigns comparing industrial meat production to the Holocaust and using naked female celebrities in ads. “This trial is being watched in Germany, France, Australia, India – all over the world.”
The high-profile nature of the case was evident in court on Monday, as reporters were relegated to the prisoner’s box to make room for supporters in the public gallery. Ms. Newkirk also disclosed that the vegan musician Moby has agreed to cover any fine that Ms. Krajnc might incur as a result of the trial.
The owner of the pigs, Eric Van Boekel, has argued that Ms. Krajnc could have introduced a contaminant into the truck and disturbed the otherwise tightly regulated health and safety of the animals.
Ms. Krajnc testified on Monday that the pigs were foaming at the mouth and visibly thirsty during the incident in June, 2015.
Jeffrey Veldjesgraaf, the driver, has testified that the pigs were fed water before and after being loaded into the truck.
The court has previously watched video of the incident, in which Ms. Krajnc is seen yelling to the truck driver, “Have some compassion, have some compassion!”
In cross-examination, Crown attorney Harutyun Apel noted that an officer told Ms. Krajnc that there was a directive against giving water to the pigs, but said it would not be enforced.
In any case, Ms. Krajnc said, without physical proof of the directive, she considered its existence implausible.
“It’s in the Bible,” she said. “When I was thirsty, you gave me water.”
“So you did it because the Bible told you to do it?” Mr. Apel asked.
“I did it because it’s the Golden Rule,” she said. “It’s written in our hearts.”
Ms. Krajnc’s testimony was rooted in the history and morality of activism rather than the niceties of the law. She spoke about the importance of “bearing witness” during the “vigils” for farm animals that her group conducts and films three times a week, in order to persuade members of the public to become vegan.
“We’re trying to end this mass disconnect in society” between the suffering of animals and the meat that people consume, she said. “When you go to the supermarket, you don’t see their eyes, or you don’t hear their cries. … In the supermarket, you just see cellophane-wrapped meat. ”
Slaughterhouses are “death camps,” she said, and factory farms subject sows to “rape” by way of repeated artificial insemination.
“To me, this is evil. It’s an evil system. And I don’t think murder can be justified in any way.”
Supporters wept in the public gallery as Ms. Krajnc compared the mass slaughter of farm animals to the Holocaust and the struggle for African-American civil rights in the 1960s.
Gasps and sobs were audible as clandestine video from inside a slaughterhouse played on the courtroom monitor.
“I want the whole world to see what I’m seeing,” she said. “Because if the whole world saw what I see, they would change.”
Flanked by activists holding signs reading “I Stand With Anita,” and “We Are All Animals,” Ms. Newkirk said at the beginning of the day that Ms. Krajnc’s case is a “great educational exercise.”
“I think this will contribute to the day when meat production comes down, down, down,” she said. “What Anita did wasn’t a violent act; it was an act of compassion, and an act of compassion that made the slaughter industry tremble.”
Ms. Krajnc faces up to six months in jail or a $5,000 fine. The trial will resume on Nov. 1.
With a report from The Canadian PressReport Typo/Error