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Nov. 29, 2020 | Sunday
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Carriage protesters descend on NOTL
Protesters and counter-protesters filled the streets of NOTL Sunday afternoon. (Supplied/Sean Sentineal)

But a large crowd of residents turns out to support Sentineal family's business

 

In the latest episode of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s carriage wars, animal rights activists descended on the town again on Sunday, but this time they were met with strong opposition by residents.

The protest, too, was different than usual and the two sides went head-to-head to express their views.

However, the leader of the demonstration claimed the protest never would have happened if a NOTL carriage supporter had not displayed a sign in Burlington “degrading” a woman who died defending animal rights.

Sunday's protest doubled as a vigil for Regan Russell, a 65-year-old activist who died after being struck by a transport truck while protesting outside Fearmans Pork slaughterhouse in Burlington on June 19.

While Russell’s death doesn’t have any ties to Niagara-on-the-Lake, the group was angered by supporters of the town’s horse-drawn carriages who attended a Burlington rally and held up a sign that said Russell committed suicide.

Russell had been trying to block trucks carrying pigs from entering the slaughterhouse when she was killed. The activists claimed her death was murder.

In response, carriage supporter Jennifer Jones and Meagan Sentineal, daughter of the carriage company owners, attended the Burlington rally a few weeks ago and displayed the sign saying Russell committed suicide.

The sign caused further outrage among animal rights activists, including a group called Toronto Pig Save, which is connected to local Niagara activists.

Adam Stirr, one of the leaders of At War for Animals Niagara, said Sunday’s protest in NOTL only happened because of the "suicide" sign, which he said was in “bad taste.”

“They specifically came out in relation to what happened at Fearmans Pork Inc. a couple (of) weeks ago,” Stirr said.

“No matter how you feel about individuals, you don't go right to the spot that someone else actually died and then (expletive) on them in front of their family.”

Jones said she doesn’t believe she is the sole reason protesters were in NOTL on Sunday.

“I think that's the big giant pile of steaming you know what," she said.

"They were carrying 'Ban horse-drawn carriages' signs. And it's always about us. Let's be honest, it's become very personal for them. It's not about what they want you to think it's about it," Jones said.

"It's specifically about Sentineal Carriages. They don't even go after the other carriage company any more.”

Jones, who issued an apology about the sign before the weekend protest, said they made it because animal rights activists had been calling Russell's death murder.

“What we had said to them was if they were going to call it murder, we would call it suicide — equally as stupid, equally as incorrect," she said. "It was a tragic accident and nothing more.”

“We didn't ever intend to hurt her family or her friends,” Jones added. “We went up to Burlington to support the truckers and the farmers.”

Jones said she believes the protests have gone further than what was intended in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“Everybody has the right to protest. It's part of our Charter rights for freedom of speech. However, when it goes beyond protesting and turns into harassment and intimidation, that's not OK," she said.

"It's not a protest anymore. And it shouldn't be happening in our town.”

She said she thinks carriage protesters used the opportunity “to gain support.”

“That's what they're doing with Regan Russell. And that's what they're doing with those signs.”

Laura Sentineal, an owner of the carriage company, said she also doesn’t believe the protest was instigated by the sign.

“I feel like honestly, that's a very convenient excuse,” she said.

She said the protesters are targeting Ontario's Bill 156, which restricts trespassing and access to farms. "They know that their traditional means of protesting and actions are going to be changing. And I think they have their sights firmly on Niagara-on-the-Lake.”

Sunday's protest in NOTL was mostly peaceful, with no charges being laid by police.

However both sides claim there was violence and abuse.

“There was three of our people that got sprayed with f---ing animal piss,” Stirr said, noting they knew it was urine because of the smell.

“It stunk really bad,” he said.

On the opposing side, a NOTL resident who uses a wheelchair said she was punched in the leg by a protester.

Police did not immediately respond to questions about the alleged incidents. A video recorded by the animal rights activists and viewed by The Lake Report appears to show no contact with the woman in a wheelchair. 

Video footage has yet to surface of any further interaction between the woman and the protester she says struck her.

Laura Sentineal said it was “heartwarming and encouraging” to see so many people show up in support of the carriages.

She said the protest will be the last time she stands at future demonstrations, saying the carriage company is going in a “new direction” with support of some residents who have come forward to help.

“I really appreciate everybody coming out. But I think moving forward we're definitely going to be doing things a little differently and trying to move forward with the town and independently on coming up with more of a resolution,” she said.

“We've also had somebody else step up to the plate, who is very financially solid and have a vested interest in this town. And they also want to take it on. So I can see the time is kind of gone where we need to stand out on the street. I don't think we need to do that."

She said Sunday was about showing protesters that residents have rights, too.

“We have a right to be here too, we have a Charter too,” she said.

Jones said she feels for the businesses on the street, acknowledging she, too, was using a megaphone and was quite loud.

She said a group of carriage supporters went to support local businesses after the protests were done, to help them regain some of their losses.

Protesters were instructed by fellow activist Jason King not to support any local businesses when they left.

Both groups estimated they had about 120 supporters on hand.

Former town councillor Martin Mazza attended the protest and said though things got a bit heated at some points, he was there to show his support for a local business, which he believes “treat their horses better than most people treat their pets.”

Stirr said his group questions why carriage supporters would attend out-of-town demonstrations when they’re fighting to end the ones in their own town.

“If I lived in Niagara-on-the-Lake, I would find that very problematic,” he said, noting that people “kind of know” what to expect from carriage protesters.

“But when you're purposely going out and antagonizing very large groups like Toronto Pig Save, you're opening a can of worms,” he said.

 

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