Undercover Investigations

Today a new undercover investigation in to cruel practices on veal farms in Canada hits the mainstream media – the Toronto Star has this story on the front page of today’s paper, and tonight CTV’s W5 will air an investigative report. This is the latest in a string of mainstream media attention focusing on cruel practices that are considered “industry standard” on Canadian farms. Thanks to undercover investigations by Mercy For Animals Canada, a number of mainstream media outlets have run prime time/front page stories about the horrific ways in which farmed animals are treated in this country.

The response from industry has been predictable, that these are “isolated incidents,” and yet mounting evidence pointing to the fact that this kind of behaviour is routine undermines this defence. Workers in this industry have come forward to share their stories, and their testimony makes it clear that there is a larger pattern at play here. In addition, these scenes captured by undercover cameras are strikingly similar to scenes uncovered by undercover investigators in other countries.

The footage obtained through these investigations is, undoubtedly, disturbing. It is hard to look at, and many people don’t want to watch it. “Don’t show me that,” they say, “I can’t stand to look at it.” These abuses take place out of sight and, as the industry hopes, out of mind. This is precisely why film footage and photographs taken during these undercover investigations is so important – they make visible what is otherwise culturally invisible. This also speaks to the important role that visual culture plays in activist efforts. There is a long history of activists using imagery in this way, a history that dates back to the 19th century.

I will be writing more about this for an upcoming column for Our Hen House, but for now I just wanted to acknowledge the significance of today’s breaking news and to thank both Mercy for Animals Canada and the media outlets who are brave enough to run these stories for all they are doing to make these stories front and centre.

Trains vs. Planes

I’m in Boston for the NEASA conference. The theme of the conference is “The Arts and the Public.” Should be good.

I opted not to fly to Boston this time. With each recent flight I have found myself growing more and more fed up with airline travel. I realized that even “short flights” become agonizingly long by the time one factors in security, customs, weather-related delays, over-crowded runways, etc.

For this trip I decide to take Amtrak down from Niagara Falls. It was a lovely trip, but the goddesses of travel wanted to make sure that I understood loud & clear that things like weather-related delays are not just limited to air travel. Ho hum. I was hours late getting into Boston because high winds knocked out power on the rail lines between New York and Boston.

Ok. Message received loud & clear. Travel can be a royal pain in the butt no matter what form of transportation one takes. I get it.

Having said that, I still think I’d opt for a train over a plane in the future if circumstances permit. It is just a more pleasant way to travel. On both the Niagara Falls – NYC and the NYC – Boston journeys the cars I rode in were nearly silent. It was quiet and peaceful, and I found the gentle sway of the cars relaxing. (so much so that I had a few naps along the way. I can’t recall the last time I was able to sleep on a plane!) The autumn scenery whipping along outside my window was beautiful to look at, and the dining car (yes, there was an actual dining car!) had vegan burgers and Sam Adams. I wouldn’t say it was the world’s best burger, but it sure the heck beats any airline food I’ve had recently (oh wait, that is because they generally never have anything I can eat!). Even the several hour delay in NYC wasn’t so bad — I mean, really, there are worse places to have to kill a few hours! I was thinking about how easy it was to just walk out of Penn Station and go for a stroll. Compare this to when you are stuck at an airport — airports are generally in the middle of nowhere and even if you decided to take a cab from the airport to another part of the city, there is the whole matter of having to go back through security, customs, etc. upon your return.

Plus, it is just a whole lot more fun to take pictures along the rail lines, and, really, doesn’t it always boil down to visual culture in the end anyhow?

Jane’s Walk

I just heard about this weekend’s “Jane’s Walk” initiative (thanks CBC!) — I love this idea! Even though St. Catharines isn’t listed as an official participant (yet), I’m going to get out my walking shoes and my camera and explore my new adopted neighbourhood in downtown St. Catharines today.

Updated — photos from my walk.

Dandelions in Boston

I just got back from a wonderful research trip to Boston, which included many days in the archives of the MSPCA. Before my trip I knew a bit about George T. Angell and the founding of the MSPCA, but I now have a much better understanding of the significance of this organization to the early animal welfare movement. I had such a great visit — I learned so much and everyone was so friendly (hi Jan!).

I would love to post more (including some pics from my weekend tourist breaks to the Arnold Arboretum and the historic North Church), but I’m up against a writing deadline, so these yellow beauties will have to suffice for now.

A Piece of History, A Piece of the Future

This week I had the good fortune of participating in a tour of the Canada Hair Cloth Building in downtown St. Catharines. This was a working factory until 2007 and will (hopefully!) be home to the new Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts at Brock.

This is an absolutely exquisite building and I look forward to seeing this space transformed over the coming months.

…Is in the Details

This week’s Photo Friday Challenge theme is “…is in the details.”

I took this picture on Botanical Beach last June.


Our visit to Botanical Beach was one of the highlights of the trip out to BC, however it was the one aspect of the trip that also caused the most post-trip stress. Imagine our surprise when Budget just went ahead and put a $1500 charge on Laurie’s credit card for “damage” to the rental car we used to get out to Botanical Beach. The alleged damage was that the display in the Prius we rented wasn’t working properly. Well, since neither of us had driven a Prius before we weren’t sure how the display panel was supposed to look/function, couldn’t figure it out and ended up switching it off so that we could, instead, focus on the lovely scenery around us.

It still infuriates me that car rental companies can get away with this kind of crap — google it, you’ll be amazed at how prevalent these trumped up “damages” are!! The good news is that Laurie had insurance through her credit card that covered this for us, the shitty thing was that it was our word against theirs and that this all took place a month after the fact. By the time we even found out about this we were back home, about 4500 km from the car rental shop and there was little we could do.

So, yeah, “…is in the details” is a relevant theme for this picture for more than one reason.