Activist portrait : Ashley

By Claude Samson

 

- May we start with this: how did you become vegan?

- I did not go vegan overnight. It started twelve years ago, in 2006, when I first watched a video from PETA showing slaughterhouses. I haven’t eaten meat since that day. I gradually cut off eggs. I switched everything in stages and two years ago, I stopped cheese.

- So the first trigger was animal suffering?

- Yes, just seeing videos of what animals go through. It was not for health.

- What about your health since you are vegan?

- My health improved. I had high blood pressure and it is normal today. I also lost weight. Health was not a priority to me but it’s good to know that you are helping animals at the same time you help yourself.

- Has there been any impact on your family relationships when you turned vegan?

- My family understands my position. My parents even made some changes: my father drinks almond milk today! But at 65, it’s difficult to change their habits. They don’t want to know they have been lied to all their life. But I am working on it. The younger generation is more open. My brother eventually went vegan for instance.

- What about your friends?

- I have lost friends that I had before. Some of them don’t like my activism, saying that I am pushing my beliefs on them… But I have met so many new people since then. Every day, I meet new people.

- And this is important to you?

- Yes, it is. You’ve got to get involved in the vegan community because you may feel lonely in this “non-vegan world”. And fighting can be difficult on the emotional level.

- Have you been influenced by any movies?

- I have never watched Earthlings, except parts of it. But I saw “What the health?“ and “Cowspiracy“. I just recommend movies to people who are not vegan. 

- Were there any pets at home when you were a child?

- Dogs. My parents raised us to respect and help animals. My mother is the kind of person who intervenes when she sees a dog in a car on a hot day. Following her example, I do it myself. Encouraging people not to walk away and to do something about it. Before activism, I was doing a lot of rescuing of cats. I took animals in at home or put shelters outside for cats and squirrels in the winter. I still do it… I have been involved as a volunteer in a program of SPCA at a time: ‘trap, neuter, release’. The goal was to control the population of cats. As it states, the cats were trapped and released after being neutered.

- Do you think the question of empathy is the same whether we are talking about animals or humans?

- It’s the same. They are equal. The fact animals do not talk doesn’t mean they are less. And besides, we are animals ourselves. All animals feel pain and emotions just as we do. Unfortunately, people live in a bubble and only care about what’s around them. I know people practising meditation, yoga, with a ‘peace and love’ state of mind, who nevertheless eat meat and wear fur. Even people fighting for human rights are not making the connection. I believe for my part that you cannot provide peace with a dead animal on your plate!

- How did your activism start?

- Well, I was following activists in Toronto and New York and became inspired. Montreal needed something similar to what exists over there. I attended protests against the Shrine Circus and also Kara’s events four years ago. I started slowly and I became more active with experience. I started by holding a sign and not talking to anyone, to organizing my own protests and leading chants on the megaphone. If you are really passionate, it will allow you to get out of your comfort zone. My focus is always on the animal suffering and that’s what pushes me.

- What can you tell me about the action against ITR labs?

- It started in March 2017 after the footage showing what was happening inside was released. Nobody knew before. We were 200 angry citizens at the first event in front of ITR, which was shown on the news, but very briefly. At the same time we addressed the MAPAQ and the Canadian government who said there was nothing wrong with what was going on there.

- And then?

- We started a weekly protest afterwards (sometimes one or twice a week) with an average of twenty people present. Only five at the end… It has last for nine months. We also carried out actions downtown, showing people what was taking place in ITR… I know people who were not vegan at the beginning and who became vegan. Because they were exposed to a vegan lifestyle thanks to this. Protests start again this month and we expect there to be one or two hundred people again.

- What was the goal of this presence?

- We were putting pressure on employees. It’s a kind of ‘shaming method’, the goal being to show them that what they are doing is wrong…

- Any exchanges with them?

- Nobody came to talk to us. Except for some intimidation from the ITR security.

- What about your relationship with the police?

- The police has always been respectful. We have had a good relation. It’s good to have the police with us in case there is an issue with aggressive people. The police are there to protect everybody, including us.

- And the efficiency of the protest?

- Well. We have seen different faces replacing previous ones, showing that people have quit their jobs. Also job adverts showing that ITR was lacking employees… We also caused economic damage to the company. They have had to employ security staff 24/7 days a week, also to hire a bus for their employees (to avoid any contact with us). And they have had to put a fence around the whole building. According to a contact we had inside, it has cost millions in damages to ITR.

- What do you think of critics against single-issue campaigns versus a more global approach?

- I strongly believe that single-issue campaigns are more effective than an abolitionist approach. The defenders of the latter want the whole world to become vegan, but it’s unrealistic. Because 20 or even 50 years will be needed for the world to become it. We are more likely to have victories with single-issue campaigns. Take one issue and put your whole energy into it: you may have a victory this way… Moreover, more people may be exposed to veganism through single issues. For instance, we always mention veganism when protesting against the fur industry. I think that talking about fur opens up the debate to veganism.

- What is your perception of the vegan movement today?

- Veganism is a kind of revolution. We see new shops everywhere. Changes are happening quickly. Ten years ago, it was still difficult to find vegetarian products. Not anymore.

- And Montreal?

- I think that we have a lot of potential, with a decent amount of passionate vegans … and there are a lot of new people joining our events… I see a big improvement since last year.

- Do you think we’ll see one unified movement in Montreal some day?

- Well, even if I support all the groups of Montreal since they are doing a great job, there might be too many groups, with many divisions. Sometimes people won’t go to a protest just because they don’t like somebody. It’s not a social event! Animals don’t care if you don’t like somebody! Sometimes, people seem more preoccupied with their own feelings than the feelings of animals… My goal is to allow anybody to feel comfortable in our protests. You don’t have to belong to any group. We are all of the same team. We have to keep in mind what our main goal is, what we are fighting for. As for me, I want to act without a title. We should all be supporting each other. It’s important not to criticize each other. The most important is to do something that makes you comfortable.

- How do you deliver your message to people regarding fur?

- Apart from the protests in front of Canada Goose, I approach a lot of people on a regular basis. In the rush hours, in the metro, we may deliver one hundred leaflets against fur. People sometimes stop.

- What do people think of the way you address passers-by in the streets or clients in the shops?

- I have been told that I was being aggressive. In fact, aggressivity is what is being done to animals, this is what I answer.

- And what about the ‘asshole stickers’? (‘I am an asshole. I wear fur’)

- They are sent by PETA. It’s a shaming tactic. Anyway, critics come from people who don’t do anything. My aim is to make people feel uncomfortable and give up, this is not to say wearing their fur coats again. And stickers don’t hurt anybody! This is nothing as compared to the 80–90s, when fur was so controversial that coats could be painted in red… We’ve got to carry on. In New York, two stores removed the jackets from Canada Goose because of the protests.

- How do you deal with people’s reactions?

- I think that activism should be done every day. I do it. It is not an easy thing to do. I am myself a shy person and don’t like confrontation. But I think of animals skinned alive. You don’t have to be afraid if you think of the animals. If I can do it, everybody can do it as well. It is just about using your voice and not being silent.

- What do you think of this idea of ‘intersectionality’ of the fights?

- I do not believe in fighting oppression altogether. I prefer single issues, even though being vegan implies being against all forms of oppression. I think that the end of animal exploitation would mean the end of exploitation itself.

- Do you think that all the fights are on the same level?

- Women have rights. They have gained their rights. As a woman, I have freedom. I have never been denied any of my rights. I don’t compare myself with a victim. The animals have no rights. They are suffering the most and they are denied their basic needs. We have to focus on the victims of today.

- What do you answer to people who reproach you to care more about animals than humans?

- If I saw somebody human suffering in the street, I would be the first to intervene. The idea that we don’t care about people is false.

- What’s your opinion about 269Life actions, like occupying a slaughterhouse, for instance?

- People did actions like this in the past. I am thinking of Rosa Parks on the bus. You need to make an impact and sometimes, laws need to be broken.

- What’s your opinion about the idea of installing CCTV cameras in slaughterhouses?

- I think it’s necessary. Nothing ‘humane “happens there. I don’t think people will be able to consider that everything is OK. Animals are not treated properly. The industry has no time for that. It’s all for profit and animals are treated like objects. Most people do not make the connection between packaged meat and the animal. “Out of sight, out of mind”…

- What would be your message to vegans if you had one?

- Being vegan is not enough. You’ve got to go out and fight for changes. I regularly post a lot of what I do. I just want to spread inspiration and encouragement for people to do the same. And it has been working, I think. I encourage people to film and post on Facebook for the same reason.

- Thank you Ashley.
 

The views expressed herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the MVA. 


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