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Aug. 14, 2020 | Friday
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Locals for Carriages raising money to battle protesters' aggressive tactics
Locals for Carriages in July 2018 standing up against AWFAN. (Supplied)

A group of Niagara-on-the-Lake residents is trying to raise money for potential action against animal rights activist group At War for Animals Niagara.

The driving force behind a group calling itself Locals for Carriages, co-founders Karen Jones and daughter Jennifer Jones-Butski, said they want to see an end to the horse-carriage protests in historic Old Town.

On May 11, Locals for Carriages is planning to host a fundraising pasta dinner and trivia night at the NOTL Legion on King Street. The goal is to raise money to help Sentineal Carriages pay any fees incurred in pushing back against the activist group. A GoFundMe campaign has also been set up.

Jones-Butski said the activist group focuses on the carriages because they are an easy target.”

They know this is a tourist town. They know they’re going to get publicity, they know people are watching. They’re not going to go after the RCMP, they’re not going to go after people for using police dogs or service dogs, because they know that’s not going to get them where they need to be.”

Locals for Carriages has more than 400 members on Facebook, and Jones-Butski said it’s growing every day.

Jones said the protesters have been growing more aggressive with their tactics, causing the carriage drivers and staff to feel unsafe on the job.

Carriage driver Abby Moran said she was on the scene during Operation Rolling Thunder, a demonstration by the activists to bring awareness to their cause during the Icewine Festival. The protest included SUVs and trucks driving around the streets of NOTL.

Moran said while driving her horse carriage, everywhere she turned the group was waiting for her in big vehicles.

“Every single street I looked down, they would have their trucks. They almost hit a pedestrian.”

She said it was stressful to do her job with the harassment by the activists, adding the tourists on the carriage were unhappy with the situation as well.

“A lot of them had kids. Some specifically said, ‘Please stop filming my child,’ but they kept filming.”

As an employee with Sentineal Carriages for more than three years, Moran said the Sentineals treat everyone who works for them, including the horses, as a part of the family. It’s unfair what the activists are doing to them, she said.

Jones said there is nothing wrong with the way the horses are managed. 

“They (the protesters) are talking about things that they don’t really understand.”

And the activists are not interested in hearing from people with different views. “It’s like talking to a brick wall” when trying to present the group with arguments to contradict their statements, she said.

The activist group’s Facebook page said the aim is to “promote activism locally and globally for animals by sharing news and providing ways for individuals to get involved and change the world.”

Jones-Butski said the activists are taking their right to protest too far by making threats on social media and harassing the carriage drivers, as well as driving aggressively and filming children during their protests. She mentioned one instance where she said a member of the activist group planned to seek her out and strap her to the front of a carriage after Jones-Butski tried to explain that the carriages are not too heavy for the horses.

“We don’t care if they end up doing it over by (Simcoe Park). Just something that’s not harassing the carriage driver, something away from the horses, something that’s going to stop annoying the general public.”

“They’re attacking a company that doesn’t need to be attacked.”

Sentineal Carriages did not initiate the fundraising. Laura Sentineal, co-owner, said she is appreciative that the community has spoken out against the protesters in the town. 

At War for Animals of Niagara was founded in August 2016. The activists advocate for an end to speciesism, saying it is a form of discrimination based on species membership.

Their website says: “We learn at a very early age some non-humans are to love, some are to eat, others are for entertainment etc.”

The group held protests in Old Town throughout the summer, carrying signs and filming residents and tourists who were using the carriages. On Feb. 9, four members of the group were seen holding signs outside of Elle Du Monde on Queen Street to protest the use of animal products. The protest was part of National Anti-fur Day.

Jones said she doesn’t have an issue with the activists standing up for their beliefs, it’s their tactics she is protesting.

The Lake Report tried to contact the activist group on two occasions. Members declined to comment on the effectiveness of their protests, the tactics used or the accusations of following or “stalking” the carriage drivers.

“They threaten the whole town by saying either adhere to what they want, or they’ll be here forever. They’re not going anywhere. I feel like that’s a threat,” said Jones.

From her experience with the activist group, Jones said it’s been tough to decipher what it stands for, adding that the group’s mission statement has changed over time. Initially, she said, it was against all forms of domestication of animals, but that stance has changed over time. The group says adoption of animals is now acceptable.

Locals for Carriages wants to get the word out to put an end to the aggressive protests and protect the personal safety of the Sentineals and their staff.

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