Joaquin Phoenix Attends Vigil for Animal Rights Activist After She Died Outside a Slaughterhouse

Alexia Fernandez

Joaquin Phoenix paid tribute to an animal rights activist after she died giving pigs water outside of a Canadian slaughterhouse.

The Oscar-winning actor, 45, joined more than 100 animal rights activists for a vigil to commemorate Regan Russell outside of the Farmer John slaughterhouse in Vernon, California, on Thursday night.

Phoenix, who has been an outspoken proponent for animal rights and veganism, stood outside of the slaughterhouse in a black hoodie reading "LA Animal Save," a mask, and a sign that read, "#SavePigs4Regan."

Standing beside him was his friend, Michelle Cho, with a sign that read, "Rest in power Regan."

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In a statement obtained by PEOPLE, Phoenix said, "Regan Russell spent the final moments of her life providing comfort to pigs who had never experienced the touch of a kind hand."

"While her tragic death has brought upon deep sorrow in the Animal Save community, we will honor her memory by vigorously confronting the cruelties she fought so hard to prevent by marching with Black Lives, protecting Indigenous rights, fighting for LGBTQ equality, and living a compassionate vegan life," he said.

"The Ontario government can attempt to silence us with the passage of its Ag-Gag bill -Bill 156 - but we will never go away and we will never back down," he said. "My heart goes out to the Toronto Animal Save community and to Regan’s lifelong partner, Mark Powell."

Part of Russell’s fight was to repeal a new bill passed in Ontario, Bill 156, that will soon make it illegal for anyone to be on private property such as farms where animals intended for slaughter are usually held.

Russell died on the morning of June 19 outside of the Fearman’s Pork Inc. when she was hit by a transport truck as she was attempting to give water to pigs headed to slaughter.

A spokesperson for the Halton Regional Police Service did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment, although an investigation into her death is being conducted, a spokesperson told CBC.

Russell’s partner, Powell, told The Hamilton Spectator shortly after her death he didn’t know how she ended up underneath the transport truck, but that he was willing to continue her legacy of fighting for animal welfare.

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“She died fighting for what she believed in,” Powell said. “Whatever it cost, she would pay. Sometimes it’s money. Sometimes, it’s this.”

On Friday, Powell told the CBC he'd fight Bill 156 for "the rest of my life."

"My life ended on Friday [June 19], so for as long as I'm left here, we have to pick up the torch and we have to fight things like Bill 156," he said.

A GoFundMe for Russell has been created by her family to provide funds for her funeral and legal expenses.