How a B.C. cop crossed the protest line for animal rights

Retired B.C. RCMP veteran Dan Moskaluk and his wife, Sheanne, are active in the vegan and animal-rights movement.

Dan and Sheanne Moskaluk with Mini the pig at Little OinkBank Pig Sanctuary in Abbotsford on APril 29, 2019. Arlen Redekop / PNG

As a B.C. RCMP officer, Dan Moskaluk swore to protect the public, investigate crimes and enforce the law.

In retirement, the veteran corporal has shifted his focus to defending animal rights, which now regularly puts him on the other side of protest lines and, on occasion, behind a Guy Fawkes mask.

For the past decade, Moskaluk, 56, was a public spokesman with the B.C. RCMP’s Southeast District. He retired on Jan. 30, 2019, after more than 33 years with the force.

On Sunday, he joined animal-rights activists at a protest at a pig farm in Abbotsford, where he donned a “Meat the Victims” T-shirt and used his skills and background to liaise with media and police, and help ensure the safety of protesters outside the farm.

Protesters gathered at Excelsior Hog Farm after People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals released a video last week that it said was shot there. The clip appears to show dead piglets left among living animals, as well as fully-grown pigs with growths and cuts.

“I’ve been on both sides of the protest lines, and given what I saw yesterday I think we couldn’t have asked for much better scenario for accomplishing for what we wanted to do, and that was essentially pull the veil away from this industry that is represented by this one farm to show the public the conditions that these animals are being raised in before they’re slaughtered,” Moskaluk said.

Moskaluk’s activism didn’t come overnight.

His wife, Sheanne, 55, switched to a whole-food, plant-based diet in 2011, after researching a bodybuilding supplement for their son and learning about some health risks of consuming meat and dairy.

In 2013, at the age of 51, Moskaluk was diagnosed with Stage 4 kidney cancer and told he could die within months. On that day he, too, completed his switch to a plant-based diet.

She credits the change with helping her lose more than 130 pounds. He says he believes it was a key factor in his recovery and has been cancer-free since 2015.

Dan Moskaluk and wife Sheanne on April 29, 2019. Arlen Redekop / PNG

The Naramata couple, married in 1989, were featured in a 2016 documentary called “Eating You Alive,” which explores the impact of a whole-food, plant-based diet on chronic health conditions. Known as the “Indian Rock Vegans” on social media, they have also shared their story with thousands of people through their posts and as volunteer speakers at festivals and conferences.

But less was known about their boots-on-the-ground activism.

Moskaluk said there are “three doors” through which one typically enters the vegan lifestyle: health, animal rights or environmental concerns.

He and his wife gravitated toward the movement as “concerned citizens” but in short time began to study the food industry’s impact on animal exploitation and climate change, he said.

While recuperating from cancer, a housebound Moskaluk spent his days on his iPad reading about veganism and meeting like-minded people online. Eventually, the couple connected with a network of B.C. animal-rights activists.

On June 10, 2017, they walked in the Vancouver March to Close All Slaughterhouses, their first time doing activism in person. Moskaluk, still a member of the RCMP, felt compelled to speak at the event, and asked an organizer for two minutes to share their story with hundreds of people outside the Vancouver Art Gallery.

“As a police officer, I’d only done that side of the protest line, there for public safety and public order,” he said. “Fast forward to 2017 and I’m there with this group of activists on the steps, and we all know what that symbolizes. It was quite an emotional speech that I gave, and it felt really good.”

After he thanked the Vancouver police officers keeping watch. One recognized him and knew his story, he said.

The Moskaluks are now members of the Okanagan chapter of The Save Movement, which says it works to “raise awareness about the plight of farmed animals, to help people become vegan, and to build a mass-based, grassroots animal justice movement.”

The couple participates in the “Cube of Truth” with pro-vegan group Anonymous for the Voiceless. The street-activist group, which holds an abolitionist stance against animal exploitation, does peaceful outreach while wearing Guy Fawkes masks and showing slaughterhouse videos to the public.

The Moskaluks have joined “vigils” outside slaughterhouses across North America, where activists stop delivery trucks to comfort the animals inside. They photograph, film and give water to the animals, often with the co-operation of drivers, slaughterhouse operators and police, he said.

“It’s not to delay, shut down or cause grief to the operation, but just to convey two minutes of love and compassion to an animal that’s about to be entered into a slaughterhouse and killed,” Moskaluk said.

The movements they have joined are non-aggressive and not the kind to force their messages down anyone’s throat, he said.

“It’s not about violence,” he said. “In fact, what everyone sees and knows is that we live in a society of normalized violence. What we are trying to achieve is to make people aware that we need to live in a society of normalized non-violence — and that non-violence starts on your plate.”

But he acknowledges that it may be surprising for some members of the public and RCMP to learn about his recent activities.

Moskaluk was at the front line of the APEC protests in 1997 during the infamous “Sgt. Pepper” incident, where a Mountie was caught on video blasting student protesters with pepper spray.

He’s seen police at their best and their worst at protests, but he’s concerned that animal-rights protesters are treated differently than other groups, with some bias and disdain, he said.

He recognizes that activists can go too far.

But should a police officer straddle the protest line? Moskaluk did so for 19 months.

He was forthcoming with the B.C. RCMP about it, he said.

RCMP Cpl. Dan Moskaluk prepares for a briefing to media on Jan. 5, 2019, just two weeks before he retired. In retirement, he has become an animal rights activist, promoting the idea of peaceful protest. During this briefing, he wore an animal rights T-shirt under his uniform. Courtesy Dan Moskaluk / PNG

The week he retired, however, the force sent a briefing note to officers about escalating animal-rights activism in the province, particularly in the Okanagan, he said. It made his former colleagues aware of a “recently retired regular member” organizing with one of the groups.

“We have participated in a wide variety of activism and we have exercised our lawful, constitutional right to do that,” Moskaluk said. “I have not conducted myself in any illegal fashion or committed any criminal offences, and we are heavily involved in this activism to move this forward.”

Moskaluk said he has recently started giving informal presentations to other activists. He tells them how the Criminal Code might be applied to them, but also about how police are expected to behave during a protest.

“My observation and humble opinion is that our police forces don’t have a full-spectrum picture of animal-rights activism movements,” Moskaluk said. “They are basing it (their strategies) on two things — what they’ve seen in the distant past, because that was what was mostly covered in the news — Animal Liberation Front, decades ago. … It’s been a while since we’ve seen people bash up an animal-testing lab or burn down a facility.”

Moskaluk said he and his wife’s activism is compassionate and based on love.

They hold no ill will toward farmers and others in animal agriculture but believe they should be encouraged and supported to move to plant-based agriculture, he said.

He views the success of Vancouver restaurants Heirloom, Meet and The Acorn, the popularity of the Beyond Meat Burger at A&W, and the massive followings of local vegans like Erin Ireland as hard evidence that plant-based diets are “not a fringe thing anymore.”

Moskaluk and his wife plan to continue their outreach work and activism, so that others might be encouraged to consider how eating animal products affects the world around them.

“We want to leave a planet for our kids and their kids,” he said.

“We’ve got a very short period of time to turn things around, considering the existential threat that we face with climate change and our environment.”

— with files from Jennifer Saltman and The Canadian Press

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