Please note: weekday morning vigils usually start at 7 or 7:30 am (so please scroll up on calendar to early morning hours). Also, please join our ”Toronto Pig Save weekly vigils to bear witness” events page on Facebook here.
Please join Toronto Pig Save’s weekly vigils to bear witness on Facebook or if you are not on FB please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll add you to our weekly email list.
We hold three vigils a week throughout the year. We encourage everyone to bring a camera and share the footage you take with your friends and family.
Where are the vigils?
* On Mondays, 7-9 am we are generally at Toronto Cow Save vigils at “St. Helen’s” and “Ryding-Regency Meat Packers” cow slaughterhouse, one block northwest of St. Clair and Keele.
* During Sundays, we generally are at 677 Wellington St. West (the unloading area) 1-3 pm on the first two Sunday’s of the month and then leafleting at Dundas Square (Dundas and Yonge) 1-3 on the last two Sundays of the month.
* One morning during the weekday we are at Lakeshore and Strachan – across from the Exhibition’s Prince’s Gates – sometimes our vigils are in the late afternoon so please join our FB group or email list to check times and places.
Understanding the significance of bearing witness:
“When the suffering of another creature causes you to feel pain, do not submit to the initial desire to flee from the suffering one, but on the contrary, come closer, as close as you can to her who suffers, and try to help her.”
-Leo Tolstoy, A Calendar of Wisdom
“Yes, it is a hard thing to witness. It will stay with you forever. Keep in mind that every action has a reaction. This experience will enable you to speak (with credibility) for these departed souls. They did not die in vain. You are now part of their life and they are part of your life. Because you were there for them they now have a voice through you.”
-Ric O’Barry, former “Flipper” dolphin trainer turned dolphin rescuer featured in Academy Award-winning documentary The Cove
“Help me, she says, are you here to help me? I cannot help you, he says. We are both helpless. I would free you if I could. But my kind will never be free, she says. Don’t give up hope, he says. We will fight for you, we are here for you, we must make people understand. Bless the witness bearers, for they will help bring about change.”
-Sherry of Ruby Ranch Pig Sanctuary
* To learn more about why we bear witness, please read “Bearing Witness”, a blog about Toronto Pig Save vigils and Jo-Anne McArthur’s indelible animal photography around the world for the We Animals project.
* Download our observation sheet which details any possible violations of animal cruelty laws and codes. Thank you Kaitlyn Mitchell and Natalie Smith for providing Toronto Pig Save with an overview of legislation and codes related to addressing animal cruelty in transport, unloading, and slaughterhouses and Tracy for putting together observation charts.
On August 18, 2011, five members of Toronto Pig Save bore witness and protested on “pig island” – a traffic island at Lakeshore and Strachan where transport trucks carry hot, dehydrated and often scared and scarred pigs to Quality Meat Packers slaughterhouse. Each pig in the transport trucks is an individual with his or her own personality just like you and me and dogs and other companion animals you are familiar with. We need your help in our weekly protests. Join us and bear witness and protest the slaughter of 6-7,000 pigs each day at Quality Meat Packers’ slaughterhouse.
This video footage shows hot, dehydrated and – in some cases – injured pigs waiting in a transport truck in the hot sun at 4 pm on Tuesday, July 12, 2011 at Toronto’s Quality Meat Packers.
Earlier, at 2 pm, Teresa Ascencao, a local resident witnessed about 10 trucks waiting in line at Quality Meat Packers, including one truck with several pigs having bleeding snoots (Teresa thinks it’s because they were pushing through the opening for air!). She then bravely ran into the plant and demanded to see the plant manager and asked them to have empathy for the pigs. She was told to leave.
It is really sad to see the pigs’ conditions, but this is probably typical on extremely hot days. What people have suggested is that we continue to bear witness and publicize their suffering. The World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) has set up a media alert and a form letter you can send to your MP, but please personalize the letter and refer to this case of July 12 and the video above. When you bear witness at 677 Wellington St. W., always bring a camera and/or video camera to document any the general abuses and torturous conditions the pigs suffer including the use of electric prods to unload the trucks.
To unload the pigs, truckers use paddles and electric prods, poking these into the trucks or taking these dangerous weapons inside the trucks. The truckers and the workers inside the pen and kill area use electric prods – not because they want to torture these gentle giant pigs – but because it speeds up the unloading and corralling process and so adds to the profit margin. People simply need to stop supporting this system of cruelty by shifting their diets away from fatty “pork” to more ethical, environmentally sound, and healthy vegan, organic and local food systems.
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Thursday, July 21, 2011 during Toronto’s heat wave: Pigs in transport trucks on the way to Quality Meat Packers, Lakeshore and Strachan in Toronto. Temperature outside truck was 38C plus humidity. The first pig has a bruised and bleeding face – including snout. Many pigs panting, having a hard time breathing.
I have been holding a one-woman, Sunday vigil (begun on Dec. 13, 2009) for just over one year at what I call the Toronto Slaughter House. Its actual name is Toronto Abattoirs Ltd., with “Quality” Meat Packers Ltd. alongside it off Tecumseth St. The shockingly barbaric and primitive holding-compound (as apt a word as I can find) where the pigs are held overnight, is at the end of two driveways off Wellington St. It is at this latter location where I first began this project.
Let me just say that for me, the French word “abattoire”, does not do “justice” to what goes on there, because in my opinion, there is neither justice nor mercy where the animals are concerned. And the word “slaughter” suggests violent killing on a massive scale. Given there are one hundred and sixty-four, three-tiered transport trucks making weekly “deliveries” (taken from the Latin word “deliberare”, meaning ironically, to liberate, to set free), the name slaughter house, calls this very dark and heavily guarded place (with fifteen hundred employees) for what it truly is, a house of killing for which I believe we all are to whatever degree, responsible.
My vigil takes various forms but mostly it entails meeting the truckers as they arrive, witnessing the unloading of the females of the pig species, (called sows by some, who I call my soul friends and my tribe) and then seeing the truckers (who have no option but to pass right by me, my conscience and I hope and I know, in some cases, theirs) turn out of the driveway on route to wherever home is, to sometimes far-enough-away parts of Ontario.
Most of the time, I just stand there, in whatever kind of weather, for as long as I can last, sometimes three hours… more or less, with both hands over my heart. I used to only use one hand but Harold Brown (a former beef farmer and founder of Farmkind, and a subject of the documentary film ‘Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home’) suggested two hands would be more powerful…so that is what I do. I send as much love and compassion as I can muster, amidst the beatings of the sows and their subsequent screams, (which I never think can get worse but do),and the shouting of some of the truckers… as in: “Move, you stupid f’ing bitch(es)” (similar language with accompanying rage that at times gets sent my way as well), with only a fine, but critical legal line of fear of consequences, separating the treatment of the pigs and the treatment of me, a line that has all too often gotten blurred throughout human history, resulting in genocide and atrocities of one kind or another. That we seem to think we human animals are special in some way and will therefore be spared the brutality we have not spared others of our species and certainly not these remarkably intelligent, non-human animals is, in my opinion, a form of insanity.
And criminals, at least some, however hardened we judge them or ourselves to be, are sometimes offered, on the eve of their executions or we, in our final moments, last rites and perhaps even a special last meal; whereas these sows, representing the female principle of life, have never had any rights…first or last or in-between or maybe just the barest minimum of rights with no or next-to-no enforcement of those rights. They have been deprived of everything that might reflect on them as being the species they are, even to the point of their conception (“con” meaning “with”) achieved today through “artificial insemination” which without consent, is merely technical language for licensed rape.
But I have digressed.
I don’t always or only stand in the same place. I have had deeply meaningful, if not at times, intense interaction with the truckers, “super” visors, security, police, City of Toronto public workers (who share the same driveway), residents from the area, one of the care-takers of the numerous feral cats having sought refuge nearby, passers-by and even on one occasion, a waiter from a nearby restaurant. I’ve heard personal stories and extended hugs to someone who came across me and was moved to tears by what I was doing, but moreover through hearing the cries of pain and terror, of the animals themselves. I have had a slaughterhouse worker scream at me: “Who are you…some stupid, f’ing, psycho bitch?” only to very quietly say moments later: “I have nightmares you know…we all do”.
I have seen the inside of the holding area, the ugly red welts and deep gashes near sensitive parts of the animals’ bodies, their precious behinds fire-engine red and sore. I have seen the pile-up of bodies of those who didn’t survive transport, who I originally hoped might have found some modicum of comfort with each other until the realization set in that they were dead. I’ve run up one of the ladders attached to the holding compound and with my head stuck in a truck, screamed for leniency regarding the severity of the beatings. On at least a few occasions, I’ve lost my composure and done my own fair share of screaming, (I am no saint) raising my voice not in anger but as an appeal for humanity, theirs and mine.
I’ve planted a lot of seeds (maybe I, too, am becoming one such seed). As long as I continue to get feedback, sometimes only in the most elusive of ways, and sometimes directly in the form of overt rage or an unexpected kindness (that has told me there is some understanding on the part of a few, what my purpose for being there is), I am committed to showing up, opening my heart more fully, fine-tuning my responses, trusting that this kind of change I am aiming for, beginning with myself, then through example and conscious presence, affecting outside change, one person at a time, within one system of exploitation and fear at a time, perhaps saving one animal at a time, will take just that…time. The Berlin Wall, after all, finally did come down and when it did, it happened virtually overnight.
There is so much more I could say but I would like to finish with why I started this project in the first place. It is a critical piece of the whole. Please stay with me for just a little longer…if you can.
In 2005, I survived a plane crash. As I believed myself to be seconds away from death, my life flashed before me with waves of resultant feelings. I recalled the cruelty and violence and abuse of my childhood and how hard it was, the struggle to overcome its effects. I felt a deep sadness about this but I also felt enormous appreciation for the pinpoints of quality and light in my life that I had been able to experience and actively create, much of it through the gift of life-long therapy of one kind or another. But what I thought would be my last thoughts, were thoughts about the animals and feelings of profound loss that my life was ending without having done enough on their behalf. Compared to them I had had so much.
Some of what happened during my childhood, took place on a relative’s farm where there were domestic animals, farm animals and two long-houses filled with caged mink. The brutality I witnessed, perpetrated on all the animals and that was held over my head as a threat to remain silent about what was being done to me, left me in a state of devastation. I did what I could to try to speak for them at that time, but it was a lose/lose proposition, alone with no support or protection for myself as well.
Many years later the despair of my childhood inevitably came to a head. At forty years of age, suicide had been a long time coming, albeit unsuccessful. But at least I had been able to say, “Enough!” to the psychological pain that, despite my best efforts to assuage, had become unbearable. That afternoon on the plane, a decade later, at the age of fifty, I felt for all the animals, who were never able to say and still cannot say, “Enough”; who had no recourse then, and all these years later, continue to have no recourse whatsoever in ending their own suffering. Having survived also the plane crash, something tipped the scales. The terror of getting directly and deeply involved with anything that might touch upon that same degree of devastation and loss of faith in humanity and myself ever again, weighed in as less significant than my deepest longing for the urgent alleviation of animals’ suffering. Whereas before, my question had been, “Why me?” it became, “Why not me?” and then, “Who better than me?”
Thus began my journey with pigs and the beginning of my true sanity and the making of amends for the gift of life I have that billions of them have yet to know.
Gwen Dunlop is a raw vegan activist