This story was originally presented as part of a 6-Minute Memoir event on the theme of “Turning Point,” held last February on Zoom. Described as “speed storytelling for a cause,” the live events feature a dozen presenters sharing personal experiences in six minutes or less, with all proceeds going to charity.
In June 2020, 65-year-old animal rights activist Regan Russell was run over by a truck during a protest outside a slaughterhouse in Burlington, Ont. Her 91-year-old father, Bill, shares the impact his daughter had on him.
Nineteen eighty-seven was a big year in my life. It was a turnaround year, the second year of my retirement, and my wife, Patricia, and I were going to England to visit friends. Our elder daughter, Regan, drove us to the airport. Just as we were about to go through security, Regan asked me, “Oh, Dad, do you have any reading for the plane?” I told her I had forgotten to bring something. She said, “Well, I have a book here you might enjoy.” I took the book, which was called Animal Liberation by Peter Singer, and thanked her.
Two weeks later, I had read it and the effect on me was immediate. I was now vegetarian and chomping at the bit to take part in animal-activist enterprises. When we got back from our trip, Regan told me that we’d be going on our first fur protest just before Christmas. It would be at Eaton’s in Toronto’s Eaton Centre.
Regan organized it, and 20 of us met outside the department store. We strolled into the fur salon, mingled with the customers and promptly sat on the floor, saying nothing. As you can imagine, security was there almost immediately. “Out or you’ll be taken out,” they instructed us. We said nothing.
Security returned with the manager who said the same thing, but even more emphatically. He told us, “As a matter of fact, the people who are going to take you out are arriving now: the police.”
The police asked us to leave. We refused simply by staying there. So each one of us was helped up and out. Two police wagons were there — one for women and one for men — and we were escorted to the central police station. I was scared. To make matters even scarier, a local television station recorded it all and aired our protest during the evening news.
At the police station, we were in two different cell rooms. I felt uncomfortable. I felt like a little child. I had been the one in Regan’s life who had always been the boss. I had been her father. I taught her to drive. I had also been her teacher in grades 7 and 8. Being in charge meant I was the one who called the shots. But that day, Regan was the boss and she was as cool as a cucumber.
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The police held us for two hours, took all of our particulars and then gave us a stern admonishment to not do this type of thing ever again. We said nothing. We just left quietly, thankful that it was all over.
On the way home, I asked Regan, “Do you think it will have any effect?” She said, “Dad, every protest has an effect, and you’ll soon see.”
We have seen. The value of the fur industry dropped dramatically in 1988. Since then, fur farming has been banned in Britain, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. France has announced it will do the same, with all of the country’s mink farms to be shut down by 2025.
Unfortunately, Regan wasn’t able to see the recent effects of our protests. She would have been so proud and so happy to know they had worked.
Bill Russell is a retired principal and teacher in Hamilton.
This essay first appeared in Broadview’s January/February 2022 issue with the title “Ripple effect.”
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