Sunshine has been Liberated!
Good news, friends! Today, Sunshine has been liberated!
After fours years of living under an eradication program by the Canadian Government, today Sunshine is a free person! His smile shines bright.
If you’ve met Sunshine you know that he has sunbeam of smile, he smiles deep from within. And today, our smiles match his own. This is a victory for the unshakeable persistence of love. Our tactic was simply to speak the truth to them — for four years. And the truth we spoke is this: Sunshine is a free person, and we insist upon it.
[Brief background story: Sunshine is a goat-friend here at Piebird Farm Sanctuary. In 2014, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) first targeted Sunshine in their “scrapie eradication program”, they wanted to kill him for testing — to see if he is healthy (he is). Animal Justice helped us save him from this fate — so then the CFIA placed Sunshine and the sanctuary here under a heavy-handed legal order of control. After four years of us resisting that, everything has now been lifted, Sunshine is liberated!]
Below is the story of how we learned to style our resistance after how Sunshine himself might resist. In helping to uplift Sunshine to now be free and hold autonomy over his own life, we learned to model our peaceful defiance in the way that Sunshine may advocate for himself — we learned to use our voices in the way that Sunshine himself may stand up for a friend in need. This understanding became one of the most grateful gifts through this difficult experience.
Like all dairy babies from small family farms or gigantic industrial farms, Sunshine was born into this world as an unwanted by-product from humans wanting to drink his Mother’s milk. As novice animal liberators, young Sunshine found his way here, eight years ago. We welcomed him to a life of sanctuary, naively thinking that he was now safe from danger.
But the reach of the animal agriculture industry is far. And their ambitions are mean.
It was a February day in 2014 when Sherry got the call from the CFIA. It’s one of the most unexpected things that the Canadian Government would want to come and kill a member of your family.
Sherry is a very friendly person. She’s genuinely kind and deeply compassionate. She answered the inspector’s questions with a happy politeness. The agent presented their legal case and their intentions, to which Sherry replied, “we can’t support that,” and ended the conversation.
I remember she came and found me in the barn. We try to no longer use the language of “rescuing” anyone (we’ve grown to feel it creates an imbalance between humans and other animals), but I remember Sherry telling me then that we have to save Sunshine for a third time. The first time was his initial liberation from his previous life (that would have been death), the second was to nurse him back to health (as his pre-sanctuary existence was one of neglect and pneumonia). Now, we had to save him again, from the Canadian Government killing healthy and free animal-persons to boost the profitability of industry’s export ambitions.
Sunshine is my best friend. Every moment we spend hanging out with him feels like a magic moment. He is gentle and he likes to daydream. He is big and strong and believes in love. He has an abundance of kindness. When he sings hello he sounds like a kazoo. When he snuggles he has a soft coo. But Sunshine was born into this world as a goat-person, and because of that, he has been made vulnerable.
Camille Labchuck of Animal Justice stepped forward as Sunshine’s lawyer. She is deeply generous and mighty. She saved Sunshine’s life. (We have a lifetime of gratitude for Camille, and for all the support and assistance over these years. So please friends, support the important and effective work of Animal Justice if you are able).
The government backed off their immediate kill order but instead placed the entire goat family and property under a lifetime legal order, imposing over-zealous oversight and carrying uncouth intentions towards the friends here in sanctuary. The CFIA is not used to being told No. Their deviation was to place Sunshine and the sanctuary under quarantine that was heavy-handed and tight-fisted. Jail for us if we disobeyed, and death for Sunshine if we disobeyed.
Our values urge us to oppose the oppression of the innocent and the vulnerable. These values are invigorated when those who we have to defend are also our family. I remember we sat with Sunshine on the defeating day that the papers were first served — inspired by Sunshine's own character, I remember that with exhausted resolve we first discussed that in this earnest struggle that now lay before us there was the eternal vigilance to not only stand against what we oppose, but to defiantly stand for what we uphold: Love.
For each of us, our love is our loudest defiance. We become changed by it.
Sunshine bestows onto the rest of us some of his confident and gentle love with every smile. Deep amid the theatrics of conflict and the kenitics of struggle, it took us a while to learn how we could possibly utilize love as our form of defiance. But the beautiful thing about resistance is that it’s ongoing, one gets lots of practice.
I remember writing at the time that “this eradication program targets one disease by killing & controlling more healthy animals than all infectious diseases combined could ever reach. Sadly, this colouring is no exaggeration. When those who think they are the doctor are actually the disease, we’ve gone far from wellness, and into another form of illness.”
I remember flinching when they described some of the details of what they would do to the family members. I remember reading how this eradication program was at the behest of the animal agriculture industry. I remember researching about every time the industry lobbied for such a program, and I remember learning about the payout farmers receive for each animal-person killed by the program. At times there was so much wrongness that it was hard to speak of the rightness we were defending here in sanctuary.
But then, I remember standing in the pouring rain during one inspection listening to the agents get agitated. They are well trained to be calm. Even though their agitation was directed towards us, we suspected that their frustration was actually from having to enforce such nefarious action. Outbursts of agitation can inform that a grieving goodness lays hidden within. In this we saw hope for freedom and the path to get there.
None of can adequately advocate to others for them to become good, but instead we find the goodness that is already within another and welcome more of that goodness to emerge. Sunshine does this with his smile, we had to do this by believing that being defiant in defence of our ethics would eventually became an inspiration for someone within the agency.
2. THE POWER TO BE HEARD
Our friend Sunshine teaches us that light transforms darkness. When an agency or industry has all the power and an individual has none, the only way to burn all that power to the ground is to kindle empathy.
At every interfacing with the CFIA, we’d try to get them to speak our words back to us. We’d explain our ethics and then ask if they understand. This honest importance of everyone being seen and heard is what inspires our sanctuary work too.
But the momentum of bureaucracy is a heavy train. Weird and bad programs like these vast eradications are designed to be inflexible. The egregious demands of these initiatives make otherwise good people behave poorly. These programs are such a plague that the employees left to enforce them are forced to be extreme.
The general scheme is to kill healthy animal-persons to show a zestful enthusiasm for eliminating a disease that hurts the export ambitions of the sheep and goat exploitation industry. That Sunshine is healthy was irrelevant. That Sunshine lives on a vegan farm sanctuary was irrelevant. That Sunshine is part of our family was irrelevant. All we could do is stand on this sanctuary land and say No. With firm voices we said No. With vulnerable voices we said No. With tired voices we said No. With endless voices we said No.
The years went by, and we resisted. No doubt, they had never before run into a situation such as this one. It was a scheme designed to boost the profitability of the industries of animal oppression …but in this case it was being used in targeting an animal liberated territory that respects goat-friends like Sunshine as persons with autonomy and freedom. Oppression knocking on the door of liberation makes for strange bedfellows.
There were a couple of years worth of letters. Letters looking for someone to listen to them. We spoke of being ethical vegans running a farm sanctuary, we challenged their decisions and their motivations and their tactics.
Each of us has to believe that inside humanity is an inherent goodness. Otherwise there would be no point in advocating for anything to improve. The CFIA has a deplorable history and our experiences were no different, but somewhere within the agency we hoped that there would be some part of somebody’s heart that would listen.
The only power we have is our will to be heard.
It proved ineffective for us in challenging their science, as they respected only themselves as the experts. It proved ineffective for us in challenging their bumbling insistance on where Sunshine came from, as they wouldn’t share their source of information. It was ineffective in challenging their behaviour or their decisions or their threats. It was ineffective in challenging the program as a whole, because everyone was just following orders — and when we followed that chain to the top, their orders were apparently coming from the Canadian citizens (If accountability is a carnival then we were trapped in the distorted funhouse of mirrors). It was ineffective in challenging via their appeal process, the first two steps of which explained that they’ve never been challenged before so they are in the right now. All of this left us fatigued by struggle. It was a theatre of conflict.
So we kept on with the one thing that would now prove today to be effective: that was to speak of only what we know deeper than anything else: our ethics. We stopped debating that what they were doing was wrong, and instead insisted on the righteousness of our ethics being heard. We had to change the narrative from their story — to our story, to our language, to the language of love.
3. LEARNING FROM SUNSHINE
Sunshine was four when this started, he’s now eight. In sanctuary here he lives in a place that empowers equality.
Sunshine has grown a lot over this time. It’s important to always uplift others be the best version of themselves — and within that is the importance for us all to try and truly see others, to see them for who they are. This is a basic element of respect. In this supportive space, Sunshine has agency over who he is. We try to see him grow and change, and authentically support who he is and who he wants to be.
One of the most grateful gifts we came to understand through this difficult experience is that we learned to style our resistance after how Sunshine himself might resist. How would Sunshine advocate for himself? How would Sunshine stand up for a friend in need? In the goat-family, Sunshine is a peacemaker. But if need be, his form of peace can be fierce. He taught us what we lovingly call “fierce peace.” So we listened to Sunshine and modelled our resistance in the ways that he informed us.
In the goat-family, if Sunshine’s responsibilities ask him to break up a fight, he’ll do so with a simple a nod of his head that is so confident that everybody listens. This is something he learned from the previous matriarch in the family, Ginger. She was very wise. — Then he’ll then usually follow the instigator around with a steady persistence. With all of his attention, Sunshine will observe and see, he’ll stare into them. Maybe he looks for their goodness? Maybe he looks into the instigator and sees their grace, or nourishes their kindness? Maybe he tries to be a comforting witness to their weakness?
It was important to learn from Sunshine. Chances are that the solutions that will bring Animal Liberation will not come from our human world. Our humans species is the one that created this dire problem of animal exploitation — the ideas that will bring liberation will come from the animal-persons themselves. We just have to listen.
With this in mind, we did what Sunshine would do, with giant horns on his head but a will for peace — a mix of courage and vulnerability. We kept on insisting with confident defiance. With unbroken defiance. With fierce peace.
4. CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTORS
The least we can do is everything. Some memorable moments include in 2016 when we wrote the new Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, with our "Declaration as Conscientious Objectors to the War against Animals.” I am unsure of how many manifesto-length letters get sent to the Prime Minister’s office every day, perhaps many. Likely ours was the only one that day from persons saying that we respect the rights and individual sovereignty of each animal person and that on the grounds of Conscience, we seek and expect to be excused from forced and compulsory participation in the eradication program.
Part of our letter: "It is our ethical understanding that animal agriculture is a War Against Animals. The phenomenon of immense organized lethal violence towards farmed animals precisely embodies a war. As demonstrated by the horrific number of casualties alone, the sustained bloodshed of the animal exploitation industry bears the unmistakable hallmarks of a legalized war. But this war is not restricted merely to the blatant and horrific industrialized killing within animal agriculture, a prolific killing that occurs on such a gross scale that it baffles understanding. The unrelenting ambitions of this war have been seamlessly integrated into governmental spaces as well, such as your agency’s “eradication program.” ...Your Agency obligating our participation in this eradication program is uncouth conscription to partake in a war that is intolerably contrary to our Conscience." Click here to read our "Conscientious Objector to the War against Animals" letter.
The Prime Minister’s office forwarded the letter on the Minister of Agriculture (a former dairy farmer), who’s reply was fancy-letterhead version of *meh*.
In human law, "animals" are considered property. They have virtually no rights. As humans, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms grants us rights such as freedom of conscience. As identified Ethical Veganism, forced participation in this eradication program disobeyed our conscious. Our beliefs insist that we respect the inherent rights and autonomy of animal-persons even if the human laws do not acknowledge those rights.
In a nutshell, using our rights to defend animal-persons connects with why we are Ethical Vegans living in service of sanctuary: to use the privilege of our freedoms to further respect the sovereign rights that animal-persons have over their own lives. To stand against any exploitation or oppression of animal-persons. To act with love and non-violence in furthering the freedoms of all animal-persons.
But still the agents came. Our sustained civil disobedience was speaking our values, always seeking acknowledgement. “Constructively: I ask for your input as to how we can have ourselves be understood: While we maintain that our freedom of conscience is being violated, and your agency dismisses that, then we must consider that the CFIA is not best suited to decide our Conscience for us. Would you agree?”
And still the agents came. We reminded them that just as we have the responsibility to obey our own conscious, they too are afforded the use of discretion, to obey theirs: “Our ethics compel us to facilitate freedoms into the lives around us. On a daily basis that is applied to uphold, honour and respect the personhood, dignity, equality and autonomy of all animal-persons. But if I may, allow me to also remind you of your own freedoms as well. Just as The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms grants us freedom of Conscience, The Health of Animals Act grants the use of discretion for an inspector or officer of the CFIA. You have the freedom to use your expertise when exercising this discretionary power. But caution: if any of us do not utilize the freedoms that we have been given, then we may unknowingly be taking freedoms away from another.”
Their inspections settled into four times a year. They wore plastic suits and sometimes left their big trucks running. The stressful seriousness of the situation was contrasted by the inspectors wearing plastic bags on their feet.
The inspections were to ensure we haven’t swapped any member of our family for substitutes (photo id’s were checked, microchips were forced). Sometimes they’d look to make sure we were not hiding any new residents.
For these inspections, supporters and friends volunteered to be witnesses and the circle of support embraced us. Sunshine has many friends.
Way back when the CFIA first wanted to kill him, a petition was started and surpassed 30,000 signatures in the first two days. The support was immense and beautiful. We were filled with gratitude in a time of need.
Eventually we grew cautious of Sunshine becoming a celebrity over this. As his friends, it has been important to us to not see him (or anyone) as a victim. The Sunshine who greets us every day with a smile is lighthearted and generous with love, we wanted everyone who meets him to see him for who he is too, not as a victim or celebrity. So our public conversations became whispers, but our defiance got louder.
Within the family here, Sunshine has a leadership style that could be described as dissent. He inspires those around him to be their own leader. Along the pathways to and from pasture, goat-friends generally travel by parade, and everyone takes a turn leading it. Sunshine inspires the younger goat-friends to have a bold liberty, but be generous with love. He inspires them to be a representation of good. He inspires us to resist.
Everyone has their own way of going and Sunshine has the kind of kindness that radiates. Every time I see Sunshine he smiles. His smile is big and brave. His smile is loving and warming. He knew when we were exhausted and he uplifted us with his gentleness. We wouldn’t talk about the situation in front of him, we tried our best to shield the goat-family from any exposure to stress or threat.
And still the agents came. We were powerless but we felt unstoppable. We felt helpless but not hopeless. The agents would walk past a giant wooden peace sign in the front yard. Maybe some of our language was sinking in. The agents got to know each of the individuals who lives here.
The agents would walk past big signs saying “Peacefully Powered Animal Liberation!” We belong to the Animal Liberation movement. Movements call themselves “movements” because they have to keep on moving. We must embrace new ethics always. We grew a great deal in these four years and are grateful for this growth. After the first step of veganism comes a lifetime of learning of how we can better respect animal-persons. Sunshine continues to teach us a great deal. We are grateful for his friendship, and we are grateful for all of Sunshine’s friends who work towards Animal Liberation.
The inspectors were very serious — but the friends here in sanctuary aren’t bothered much by boundaries. Rose-a-Doodle (turkey-friend) would fall asleep at their feet, purring and looking for a snuggle. Giddy-girl (cat-friend) jumped into their arms for a hug. MommaBill (goat-friend) greeted them in the front garden, with a mouth-full of flowers. Ray (rooster-friend) danced around them.
We worked with Environmental Lawyer Kaitlyn Mitchell to prepare our thoughts for a possible Charter claim (Canadian Human Rights Act). Kaitlyn greatly helped us navigate the world entirely unfamiliar to us and explore how our ethics are protected by Canadian law. We used this newfound confidence going forward to continue to uphold our position.
6. TO BE UNDERSTOOD IS TO UNBALANCE THOSE WHO STAND OVER US
Most recently we tried to insist on the CFIA signing something saying that as government actors they were knowingly forcing us to violate our ethical beliefs.
“...(regarding the) eradication program affecting the person Sunshine and the seven other persons in his goat-family, I sign that to the best of our ability we acknowledge and understand in these actions the CFIA is knowingly violating the ethical beliefs of (Sherry and Yan of Piebird Farm Sanctuary) as they have communicated them as identified Ethical Vegans with freedom of conscience.”
This is a violation that we took very seriously and have spent four years attempting to communicate — so documenting whether they understand would be a helpful clarification. We added, “if for some reason this is something you are unable to do, then please rethink the actions of your office and get back to us.” Nobody would sign it. The letters were typed on an antique typewriter so we could press really hard on the keys and have the words carry our emphasis.
There have been times where the inner monkeywrencher in me has wanted to smash the broken bureaucracy. But the respect for restorative justice that we hold urges the compulsion for forgiveness towards the governmental spaces that enable indignities. This experience is just a symptom of the dreadful troubles for animal-persons that comes from the industry.
Over the four years, kind strangers from all over have written us and shared that Sunshine’s story has inspired them to now go vegan. They’ve shared that they are choosing to no longer support an industry who egregiously goes to such extremes as this to exploit animals. This is part of a bigger tide of humans listening to the fundamental urge for kindness.
7. VULNERABILITY AND VICTORY
With the CFIA’s writing the other day saying that they’ll be coming out today and lifting the quarantine, something good has broken through the crust of bad. Their correspondence ended with the line that their office has learned a lot in this situation.
Our convictions guide us to eternally obstruct and resist the status quo of exploitation. Sunshine teaches us to do this with a smile. In assisting his own liberation, we listened to Sunshine and learned from him. Sunshine has a vulnerability that roars.
Our convictions guided us to try and shield Sunshine and all the friends from even any inch of stress — so we’d absorb any menace ourselves and deflected the threat. All of us will tolerate immersible amounts of corrosive strife to uplift a friend in need. The exhaustion fuelled new kind of energies.
Over time the stress built up too. Sherry is an energetic and vibrant soul, but last Autumn she got sick and had emergency surgery. The first time she left her recovery bed was to greet the inspectors for their now regular inspection. The first time she stood up straight again was for us to stand together in the confidence of place, with the confidence of purpose, and communicate yet again that Sunshine be free.
If our advocacy is to stand for those who are made vulnerable, then perhaps the best way we can advocate is to be vulnerable ourselves. There is power in vulnerability. I remember Sherry standing there in fierce peace.
Each of us is vulnerable, it’s a virtue we all share. It was around this time when we first noticed that something in the agency had changed. Their hold was beginning to slip. Small cracks formed in their tough exterior and we saw an inner vulnerability that they too knew this was wrong.
Now, with the CFIA coming this morning and terminating all of their efforts and oversights and intentions here, there is victory for vulnerability. This is victory for unwavering defiance. This is victory for the endurance of love. Sunshine has been liberated!
We sit with Sunshine often and watch the day. He leans on our shoulder and closes his eyes. With this good news just now, Sherry and I were out sitting with Sunshine, all smiling together. He was smiling with a smile that slowly unfolds freedom and insists upon love. He was smiling with a smile that lives in a place of liberty, a place of peace. Today, Sunshine is a free person! May all be free.
Learn more about Piebird Farm Sanctuary / Vegan Farmstay
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Find out more about Piebird Farm Sanctuary / Vegan Farmstay, in Ontario
New: Peacebird Animal Libeartion Cooperative
We’ve recently begun forming the sanctuary into more of an interspecies intentional community, as Peacebird Animal Liberation Cooperative (imagine a vegan eco-village crossed with a farm sanctuary). This growth is to better communicate how we can invite animal-persons deeper into the circles of respect. We humans can correct our privilege and work to foster direct equality with other animal-persons.