08/01/2014 09:48 EDT | Updated 10/01/2014 05:59 EDT

Sainte-Perpétue pig festival condemned by animal rights advocates

The town of Sainte-Perpétue’s annual pig festival takes place this weekend amid mounting allegations of cruelty by animal rights advocates.

Two main events at the 37-year-old festival in the town north of Drummondville are being targeted for criticism: a wild boar race and pig wrestling.

The latter event puts contestants in a muddy ring with a pig and gives them 90 seconds to try and catch the animal and put it in a barrel.

Animal rights advocates including former Montreal Canadiens player George Laraque have called the event cruel.

More than 20,000 people have now signed online petitions demanding an end to the wrestling match.

A petition by Canadians for the Ethical Treatment of Food Animals says animals used in the event run the risk of being injured by participants who often throw themselves onto the animals in a bid to tackle them.

“By imposing stress and fear on animals for the sake of entertainment, organizers teach participants and attendees, adults and young alike, that animals, as intelligent and sensitive as they are, can be used for humans' own purposes, no matter the consequences for these sentient beings — a disturbing message which should have no place in the twenty-first century,” the petition reads.

Humane Society International Canada spokeswoman Sayara Thurston told CBC News that pigs are intelligent and sensitive animals and the wrestling match puts them at great risk of stress.

“These are events where pigs are forced into noisy stadiums and they’re grabbed and chased and thrown,” she said. “Forcing them into a situation where they’re needlessly exploited for entertainment is incredibly cruel.”

In response to the mounting criticism, the town has taken the extra step this year of placing signs around the festival grounds warning that protests won’t be tolerated.

Organizers defend competition

Festival organizers, however, say the events are supervised by veterinarians and there’s no need to worry.

“There’s a vet on site who takes care and watches the animals to ensure that they have the perfect conditions and aren’t hurt,” said Laurin Gaulin.

Gaulin said the five-day long festival attracts around 35,000 visitors.

Residents of Sainte-Perpétue told CBC News they’re not worried about the criticism.

They say the festival is good for business. According to organizers, the pig festival generates around $4 million in economic spinoffs for the town of just under 1,000 residents.

Gaulin said the pig festival is also an important source of pride for the town.

“People are involved in it, they’re happy to see visitors, and everyone looks forward to it,” she said.