TESTING THE LINE As Animal Rights Activists Push Legal Boundaries, Canada Considers What Makes a Terrorist

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Globally, a new generation of animal rights activism is finding its legs. Fueled by Instagram influencers, dramatic documentaries, and the threat of climate change, a rising number of vegan activists are turning to civil disobedience

A FLASHLIGHT ILLUMINATES the blackened, detached head and leg of a pig’s corpse as they’re nudged and nibbled by living pigs. The camera captures another pig lying listlessly on its side and twitching. Some are afflicted with large growths, one on its belly, another near its eye. The footage, released by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, was provided by anonymous activists who say it depicts the Excelsior Hog Farm in Abbotsford, British Columbia.

Four days after the release of the PETA footage, 25-year-old Amy Soranno, a former teen beauty queen with blue hair and meticulous makeup, sat at the front of a packed school bus, tensely looking back at 65 vegan activists dressed in white bio-suits fit to protect livestock from human-borne disease. Outside, fog hovered over fields framed by blue mountains, as the early morning sky yellowed. They were on their way to the Excelsior farm.

Animal rights activists travel by bus to the Excelsior Hog Farm in Abbotsford, B.C. on April 28, 2019.
Activists prepare for their action before traveling by bus to the Excelsior Hog Farm in Abbotsford, British Columbia, on April 28, 2019.
Photos: Jackie Dives for The Intercept

Soranno and the others were acting as part of a movement called Meat the Victims, which began in Australia. A standard action involves dozens of activists descending on an animal farm. While one group stands on a public road in front of the farm, another group stages a sit-in inside the animal facility.

Soranno had participated in audacious actions before. As an organizer with Okanagan Animal Save, she has set up “vigils” where participants wave down trucks headed to slaughterhouses so that they can take the animals’ photos and comfort them before they’re killed. She has also performed “open rescues,” where she entered chicken farming facilities and removed birds for rehabilitation. All of this has been broadcast to her more than 25,000 Instagram followers. That day, she was acting as a safety marshal for the action, liaising with police and making sure the group didn’t do anything to endanger themselves or the animals.

It was clear that someone had alerted farmers in the area that something was about to happen. Ray Binnendyk, the hog farm’s owner, had parked an excavator across the dirt access road the activists intended to use to approach the property, and one of the activists had spotted private security nearby.

As the activists descended from the bus into the sharp-smelling air, several began Instagram livestreams. They tried a door and a window — locked. But then, to their surprise, a wide entrance to a squat cement building eased open. As they began leaping into the pig pen below, two pickup trucks careened down the narrow alley between buildings.

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