MONTREAL — Until he reached age 44, Pascal Bédard loved nothing more than beef-flank steak. Today, he can’t stand sitting at the table with someone who is eating so much as an egg or any other animal product. This part-time economics professor and full-time anti-speciesist vegan activist wants to end the exploitation of animals once and for all. He’s ready to do whatever it takes to get there.
When I met Mr. Bédard in a cafe, he had just come from a class at the University of Quebec in Montreal. Dressed in a stylish shirt and pants, he doesn’t fit the stereotypical image of an activist. However, as a spokesperson for Direct Action Everywhere Montreal (DXE), a Quebec anti-species association, he spends his nights and weekends protesting. He also co-organizes and publicly defends the movement’s disruptive events, such as protests in restaurants and grocery stores, and breaking into a pig farm in Saint-Hyacinthe.
If some Quebeckers find DXE’s actions disturbing, he’d be delighted. For Bédard, the greater the disturbance, the more people talk about a cause, and the more we collectively educate ourselves in the service of meaningful change.
- The universal recognition of animals as sentient beings equal to humans.
- Total abolition of the production of meat or any other animal product such as cheese, milk, or eggs.
- Total abolition of the use of animals for scientific or cosmetic experiments, and for making clothes.
- Total abolition of the exploitation of animals for recreation or sports, such as rodeos.
On March 7, Pascal Bédard and other members of DXE Montreal entered the a local restaurant to denounce animal violence.
“What’s bothering someone at a restaurant for 10 minutes, when thousands of pigs are getting their throats slit?” he protested.
“Civil disobedience is required in order to move the movement forward. People are too soft. The activists who say, ‘Excuse me, I’m going to talk to you about something. I know it’s delicate and it’ll make you feel guilty, but….’ At some point, too bad. It just doesn’t work. You have to scream it in the world’s faces so that they understand and change their behaviour,” he believes.
“We don’t care if we attract more negativity than positivity. The more hate there is, the better. The greatest moral struggles have generated hatred from those who don’t want things to change. Our mission is to force the issue anyway.… Civil disobedience is the one constant among movements that have worked in the past, even in democracy. For slaves, women, Black people, and gay people, among others,” he claims.
Bédard participates in anti-speciesist actions, but with a certain level of distance. He has never been arrested. Despite his convictions, he refrains from criminal acts out of fear of losing his job. Nevertheless, he is convinced that the movement needs radicalization.
“If there is no response — as in, nothing happens — you have to stir people up more and more. We must radicalize. We must set an example. We must create extreme social tension, with constant, massive interventions, in all cities in Quebec, so they can’t ignore it anymore,” he said in a second video-conference interview.
DXE doesn’t rule out being more intrusive, or launching actions on a larger scale, as long as respect for the physical integrity of humans and animals is maintained. “Civil offences, we’re not afraid of that. That’s like a speeding ticket,” claims the 40-year-old.
Even if it will be difficult to get there, Bédard is convinced that Quebeckers from all walks of life, regardless of their age, could see things the way he does. He feels it’s all about education. It took him 44 years to finally face the animal exploitation implicit in his own life.
It was a meeting with a protester that “enlightened” him.
“Looking at him, I said to myself: ‘What a loser – get a life.’ And I didn’t actually say it, out of pride, but it [the meeting] did make an impact.” Bédard began to educate himself, to read, listen, and ultimately change his diet to prioritize so-called “ethical” meat. Then one day his girlfriend Maria adopted a vegan diet.
“She said to me, ‘Deep down, you know it’s a lie — there’s no such thing as ethical meat. You have proof that you’re taking the life of a living being, and that you don’t really need it for your own survival.’” Something clicked, he says. “Once the switch is flipped on, and you understand everything that you do to animals, you just can’t stand for it anymore.”
Now, he sees the flank steak and lamb chops he used to love as “victim morsels.”
Awareness obviously helps to advance the cause — and the main technique the anti-species movement uses to raise awareness is to ask consumers a yes-or-no question.
“Are you for or against causing harm to living things when it could be reasonably preventable? There is no third option … There is no such thing as a better way to kill,” he says.
“Cognitive dissonance comes into play, and from then on, they’re cursed. They know they’re not violent psychopaths — but they hate you, because you’re forcing them to recognize the enormity of the oppression that their choice really involves.”
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The vegan diet is gaining more and more popularity — whether it’s for health, environmental, or animal issues. But engaging in civil disobedience is a whole other story.
Pascal Bédard no longer goes to certain family gatherings. His sister doesn’t want to talk to him anymore. He’s had fewer professional opportunities — and he admits that people generally approach him less, because they feel uncomfortable with his activism. He also fears that he will be targeted by the Canadian secret services, and that a mere mention in their files could jeopardize his wife’s Colombian mother from immigrating to Canada.
A commitment like this can be a heavy weight to bear, even depressing at times.
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“Personally, I don’t like being an activist. Confrontation isn’t my thing. I do it because it is a call of duty. If I don’t do it, no one is going to do it,” he admits.
“It’s depressing, because you do so much work, and then you just see ’99-cent hot dog’ restaurants. All you see [in these hot dogs] is the extreme violence that pigs have been subjected to — but no one else sees it. Everyone is blind. It’s like living in an insane asylum. To stay sane, you have to take a step back every now and then.”
Many activists are going through even darker times than he is, he says. Some even lose their jobs, their spouses, neglect their health, or go into debt to pay their legal fees in connection with legal proceedings.
For these reasons, among others, recruiting new activists to DXE Montreal is hard work. The members of the organization, who currently number around 100, are said to be very young, and they often withdraw as soon as their schedule no longer permits. Bédard would like to see more professionals, strong-willed people, and “silent” vegans to show up for the movement.
The challenges of integrating DXE
New activists are welcome to join the movement, he says. Like organizations such as Direct Action Everywhere Montreal, Anonymous for the Voiceless, and Montreal Pig Save, however, DXE is careful about who it lets in. To prevent infiltration by the authorities or agricultural-producer lobbyists, each new activist who displays an interest in joining is subject to investigation.
“We filter a lot. We have to develop a culture of extreme safety, because infiltration happens almost everywhere, and it can destroy events before they even take place,” Bédard explains.
Senior members of activist groups scrutinize the social media accounts of new members — first, to make sure that they are vegan, but also to check that their interest in the cause is genuine, and not out of the blue.
“Sometimes, a small detail gives them away,” says the DXE spokesperson.
The organization’s meetings usually include just a handful of members. Even a visit with HuffPost Quebec was uncertain. Some members say they don’t want to be publicly identified as the “organizers” of disruptive activities, due to the risk of getting into trouble with the law or putting their jobs at risk.
Otherwise, to join the activities, admitted activists are contacted via the Signal app, with encrypted messages that are sent out a few hours before the event. The messages detail, for example, the time of the event, the meeting point, and what equipment to bring. The decision to participate or not is left up to them, depending on their availability. The answer, however, has been generally positive, says Bédard.
This story is a part of “Whose Street Is It?” an ongoing HuffPost Quebec series that gives voice to Quebecois activists and examines how far they are willing to go to create change.
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