Are they liberators or terrorists?
Militant activists who free farmed animals have struck in Canada before, and there’s speculation they could be behind three recent break-ins at mink farms in Southwestern Ontario.
Anonymous activists have claimed responsibility for one of the Southwestern Ontario raids through a California-based organization, the North American Animal Liberation Press Office, that says it supports and encourages the Animal Liberation Front, an underground activist movement with a website.
“We did get a communique about one of the liberations and we have not received anything for the subsequent two liberations, but that doesn’t mean it is not the work of animal liberators,” Jerry Vlasak of the North American Animal Liberation Press Office said Wednesday.
“Of course, we support their actions. We support anything that inflicts economic sabotage on the people who profit from animal suffering.”
Ontario Provincial Police in Wellington and Perth counties, where the three recent mink farm raids occurred, are working together to determine if they’re connected, said OPP Const. Kees Wijnands. “We’re looking at everything with the big picture in mind,” Wijnands said. He said police don’t know if the Animal Liberation Front is responsible for the recent attacks. “That’s what everyone is saying, but we’re not saying anything like that,” he said.
Meanwhile, mink farmers in Southwestern Ontario are stepping up security, he said.
The Animal Liberation Front, Vlasak said, is “an underground animal liberation movement.”
But those targeted by that group, or other animal rights activists who break into farms and open cages to free fox and mink, have a different name for it. “This has been going on for years and years. They’re a kind of terrorist organization,” said Dave Bosma, a fur auctioneer for the last 35 years. “They release those animals and most of them get killed anyway. But by letting them lose, it’s a statement and they get press.” Bosma works for the Fur Harvester’s Auction, which operates in North Bay. It’s one of a number of organizations on a list the Animal Liberation Front publishes for its members.
Mink, which can fetch as much as $150 a pelt at auction, depending on quality, are often targeted for “liberation” because activists say the animals can learn to survive on their own.
“The animals are capable of surviving in the wild and even if they won’t, they at least have a chance of survival,” said Vlasak. “In captivity, they have no chance of survival. They’ll be taken out of their cages and anally electrocuted.”
But farmers say the mink can’t survive on their own. “Most of them don’t go anywhere. The young have no clue what to do, so they just stand there or group together,” said Gary Hazelwood, executive director of the Canadian Mink Breeders Association. “The assumption that the mink will go frolic in the woods and live happily ever after is false.” Farmers who have had mink let out of cages often just have to turn on the feed machine and the animals will come back in anticipation of dinner.
Hazelwood has had his own close encounter with animal liberators. In 1997, five Michigan people broke into a mink farm near Blenheim, releasing 1,500 pregnant mink. Many of the small, fur-bearing animals were recovered, but aborted their young and almost 500 others died. The five intruders were convicted or pleaded guilty to charges including break and enter, with penalties ranging from jail time to fines.
Hazelwood said they had with them a list of mink farms in the area. The farm targeted, and two others — including Hazelwood’s operation near St. Marys — were highlighted. “I would call it a criminal act of trespassing, not liberation,” Hazelwood said.
Two years ago, another Southwestern Ontario fur farm was hit, with about 750 mink and 50 foxes released from an operation near Simcoe. The Animal Liberation Front claimed responsibility.
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May: Between 6 p.m. on May 30 and 8 a.m. on May 31, 1,600 female mink cages were opened on a commercial mink farm just east of St. Marys on Perth Line 9. A section of the chain link perimeter fence was cut and the barn was entered.
About 1,000 of the animals were found. Many of the nursing babies died.
July: Between 11 p.m. July 7 and 1 a.m. July 8, a wide opening was cut in a number of locations in a perimeter fence at a farm north of St. Marys, on the west side of Road 125.
About 6,800 mink were released and many were subsequently found and gathered up.
July: Between 10 p.m. July 30 and 4 a.m. July 31, about 300 mink were released from a barn in Wellington County, on Jones Baseline in Guelph-Eramosa Township. Most of the mink were recaptured.
- Minks are semi-aquatic.
- Related to weasels, otters and ferrets.
- Native to North America (but has spread to Europe and South America).
- Carnivore; eats rodents, fish, crustaceans, frogs and birds.
- Farmed for pelts, which are turned into hats, coats, etc.
- Male body length 34 cm to 45 cm; female body length 31 cm to 37.5 cm. Tails about 15 cm to 24 cm long.
- Nova Scotia has Canada’s largest mink-breeding industry; Ontario’s is the second-largest industry.
- Mink are harvested on the farm, processed, then sent to a fur auction. Most auctions are in Toronto, Poland or Wisconsin.
- Pelts are separated into male and female and according to grade.
- Pelts can be sold by the hundreds or by strings of several thousand, to brokers or directly to manufacturers.
- Low-grade pelts sell for as little as $2 and high-quality for $150. The average is about $100.
- The Animal Liberation Front is an international underground organization that works to remove animals from labs and farms.
- Active in more than 40 countries. Small groups of people work together.
- Sends updates to a press office anonymously, which releases public communiques.
- Press office also publishes lists and pictures of possible FBI agent infiltrators, people who have testified against the group and lists of known North American mink farms and organizations, including those in Ontario.
- Their actions cost breeders hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost animals and revenue.
Animal Liberation Front: animalliberationfront.com
North American Animal Liberation Press Office: animalliberationpressoffice.org