In June 2015, animal activist Anita Krajnc stopped on the side of a road in Burlington, Ontario, next to a large trailer packed with slaughterhouse-bound pigs. She attempted to give them water and was confronted by the driver. She recorded their confrontation on video. (Youtube.com/TorontoPigSave)

A Canadian activist who faced jail time for giving water to slaughterhouse-bound pigs was found not guilty Thursday of criminal mischief, in a ruling that acknowledged she had neither harmed the animals nor prevented their slaughter.

Anita Krajnc, the founder of a group called Toronto Pig Save, was charged after pouring water through the slats of a truck ferrying 190 pigs to an Ontario abattoir on a summer day in 2015, and the case against her centered on whether that action had interfered with the pigs’ owner’s property. Judge David Harris decided it did not, though he was unswayed by Krajnc’s lawyers’ argument that pigs are not property, but legal “persons” — a case that animal rights activists in the United States have made on behalf of chimpanzees.

“Ms Krajnc and like-minded individuals may believe otherwise and they are fully entitled to that belief,” Harris wrote, referring to Canadian law that views pigs as property, according to the BBC. “That does not however make it so.”

Krajnc’s case became a cause celebre among animal protection activists, some of whom have established groups modeled on Toronto Pig Save, and attracted the support of celebrities including the singer Moby, who offered financial support. Farm groups, meanwhile, held it up as an example of meddling that threatened family businesses and the safety of the food supply. Prosecutors argued that Kranjc gave the pigs an “unknown substance.”

The 2015 incident was hardly the first time Krajnc and her fellow activists had touched or given water to livestock on the way to slaughter; they have regularly faced off with the drivers of trucks carrying chickens and cows as well. But the driver on this occasion called police during a heated exchange that Toronto Pig Save captured on video and circulated.

“Jesus said, ‘If they are thirsty, give them water,’” Krajnc told the driver.

“No, you know what?” he shouted. “These are not humans, you dumb frickin’ broad! Hello!”

Canadian media reported that Harris, the judge, said it was clear the liquid Krajnc gave the pigs was water. But he did not embrace many of her arguments. According to CBC reporter Samantha Craggs, who live-blogged the hearing on Thursday, Harris scoffed at Krajnc’s lawyers’ comparisons of her to Nelson Mandela and Susan B. Anthony and derided their comparison of Kranjc to Hungarians who served water to Jews en route to concentration camps as “offensive.” He also rejected their argument that she was acting in the greater good.

Nevertheless, defense lawyer James Silver told reporters, the decision “acknowledges that compassion is not a crime.”

The verdict was cheered by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, whose president, Ingrid Newkirk, said in a statement that Krajnc had “inspired people all over the world to put down their pork chops and recognize that sensitive living beings are crammed onto trucks in all types of weather so that their throats can be slit.”

Ontario farm groups, on the other hand, issued a joint statement saying they were “extremely disappointed.”

Farmers “are committed to keeping animals healthy and safe throughout their lives,” said Clarence Nywening, president of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. “Actions like this by activists are putting pigs, families, communities and livelihoods at risk.”

Krajnc’s legal troubles — and the publicity they attract — are not over. She is also facing charges of obstructing police at the scene of a crashed truck full of pigs last fall, when she and other Toronto Pig Save activists “crossed police lines in an effort to convince slaughterhouse workers to release some of the injured hogs to a pig sanctuary,” according to the Toronto Star.

“This is how social movements get their word out,” Krajnc told reporters after the verdict on Thursday, the Canadian Press reported. “We go outside our comfort zone and we do what’s right.”

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