By Will Potter
Jul 11, 2015
A few days ago, animal rights activist Amber Canavan began a jail sentence for photographing and rescuing several ducks from Hudson Valley Foie Gras, where ducks are force-fed until their livers are engorged.
She was originally charged with felony burglary and petty larceny, which could have meant up to 7 years in prison. After 3 years of legal proceedings, the charges were reduced and she plead guilty to misdemeanor trespass.
As part of her sentence, she will not be compelled to identify any other investigators, or pay any restitution to the farm.
I spoke with Amber Canavan just days before she began her jail sentence:
Why are you going to jail?
Amber Canavan: “I was recently convicted of criminal trespass for my part in an undercover investigation and open rescue of two ducks from a massive foie gras duck force feeding facility in New York. Foie gras is the liver of a duck who has been force-fed an unnatural amount of corn gruel, resulting in a diseased, fattened liver. This engorged liver is served as a delicacy in a relatively small number of restaurants across the country. This intensive force-feeding process, combined with standard factory farm conditions, cause the ducks extreme discomfort, illness, and death.
I have been a volunteer for the Animal Protection and Rescue League for a number of years, and I became more involved when APRL launched a number of investigations into the foie gras industry. I was on the east-coast team, charged with checking in to Hudson Valley Foie Gras, which is located a few hours from my hometown, and whose proximity had weighed on my mind for years.
The investigation itself went off without a hitch. While there, our team collected many hours of footage, and rescued two traumatized ducks. We discovered that almost all of the birds suffered from untreated sores, respiratory disease, and many had broken limbs. One duck was found with a wound on his throat, which was oozing pus, apparently from improper insertion of the metal force-feeding tube. Others were found dead, often with gruel pouring from their beaks.
The footage was shared and used by many organizations in their campaigns. Unfortunately, it was shared a little too freely, and the District Attorney came into possession of the raw footage, as well as my name. I was arrested in May 2013, two years after the investigation and rescue took place.”
This has been a very lengthy ordeal. Could you tell us about how it was finally resolved in this way?
Amber Canavan: “First of all, at the time of my arrest, I was a full-time student (I have since graduated), so the delays between arrest and indictment, while quite arduous, probably prevented me from being expelled. As is, I was placed on disciplinary probation by my college for apparently violating their student code of conduct by being arrested.
I was initially charged with felony burglary and petit larceny, and the prosecution was adamant that I serve serious jail time, even though I was a first time offender. It took a lot of time and some solid legal work to get to this resolution. Finally, at a court hearing on June 3rd, 2015, with the farm’s manager decked out in filthy muck boots, and practically breathing down my neck, I testified in open court that I visited the farm, documented egregious conditions, and delivered two ducks into lifesaving medical care. The judge imposed an Order of Protection against me in addition to the 30 day jail term on the conditions that the other people on the investigation team and the two rescued ducks would remain safe and free.”
What do you think have been the most important lessons learned from this experience (both personally and politically)?
Amber Canavan: “Both personally and politically, I had to confront that sometimes what needs to be done has consequences, but you do it anyway. Sometimes there is so great of an opportunity that warrants taking the risk of going to jail. If you think it’s bad for the animals (or the environment or any oppressed group) just from what you’ve seen from video or pictures, I assure you it is far worse. Our urgency to free them should be as acute as their urgency to be free.
There are a million ways to engage in making change that doesn’t include going to jail, but pushing legal boundaries is integral for any social justice struggle. Often the only thing keeping us from making a huge impact is our own hesitations.”
We have talked a bit about your case in relation to others, such as what’s going on in Australia, or ag-gag laws here in the U.S. What do you think that connection is?
Amber Canavan: “Ag-gag laws are a symptom of the effectiveness of the movement’s use of whistle blowers. As we saw with my case, and many others, such as Patty Mark’s arrest in Australia, prosecutors already have the tools they need to silence and persecute whistle blowers. The prosecution in my case made a big deal about the missing ducks, whose value was a mere $100. Many people believe the real reason I have been prosecuted was the extent of my involvement and openness in advocating for all of the ducks we had to leave behind that night. It was not my actions, but my voice that invited this prosecution. That is what the industry is really worried about, not the loss of a few individual animals.
If a tactic (such as undercover investigations) is too effective at making change, and if that change threatens powerful interests, they will probably find a way to criminalize that tactic. If activists become too bold, they will find a way to scare them into submission, such as with the AETA. That is why tactics need to be ever-evolving, and activists need to cultivate a reserve of courage. As long as activists keep it up, the industry will find other ways to buffer themselves from public scrutiny, but a truth this big can’t stay hidden for long. No matter how much money and power they have, we will always be there to nonviolently intervene.”
What can people do to support you?
Amber Canavan: “I went through all of this to bring some relief for the animals. I would much rather folks do something for the animals in my honor than anything else. I’m only going to be confined for a few weeks, but the animals won’t have that relief unless we stand up for them.
That being said, there are a number of ways to support me while I’m in jail, such as writing, visiting, or sending me reading material. Details for jail support will be posted on my support page at www.facebook.com/supportforamber. Donating to my legal fund by choosing “Animal Cruelty Investigator Legal Defense” at www.aprl.org/contribute.html would also be a huge help.”
Please write Amber while she is in jail:
Delaware County Jail
Attn: Amber Canavan
280 Phoebe Lane
Delhi, NY 13753