Marineland charged with new counts of animal cruelty
Tourists line up at a viewing area to see two Marineland attractions, a Killer Whale calf swimnming with its mother and a small pod of Beluga Whales in Niagara Falls, Ont. on Wednesday, July 18, 2001. (The Canadian Press/Scott Dunlop)
Marineland was charged Monday with six counts of animal cruelty, but the company dismissed the allegations, accusing Ontario's animal welfare agency of acting on behalf of "a band of discredited activists."
The latest charges, filed by the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, relate to a number of land animals kept at the tourist attraction in Niagara Falls, Ont.
They include one count each of permitting elk, red deer and fallow deer to be in distress, and one count each of failing to provide the standards of care for those animals.
The agency's deputy chief inspector, Jennifer Bluhm, said the latest charges were part of a "complex investigation" that began on Nov. 10, when the OSPCA received a complaint of alleged animal cruelty.
Later that month, the agency laid five counts of animal cruelty against Marineland that related to the treatment of peacocks, guinea hens and black bears.
The OSPCA said at the time that more charges were pending.
"It was apparent there were additional charges that were appropriate," Bluhm said Monday. "While the investigation is still ongoing, these are all the charges we expect to be laid in this case."
Marineland said it had only learned of the new charges from media reports.
"We believe the OSPCA is continuing a publicity campaign at the behest of a band of discredited activists with little relevant expertise or knowledge," the company said in a statement, calling the charges the "strangest" yet laid by the agency.
"We will hold the OSPCA to the high standards of Ontario's legal system and require them to defend their charges to the fullest extent possible."
None of the allegations or charges have been proven in court.
The 35-page complaint that prompted the OSPCA investigation in November was filed by a California-based animal rights group called Last Chance for Animals. It contained allegations of animal abuse along with photographs and videos from a former Marineland employee.
The Canadian Press obtained a copy of the group's complaint, as well as copies of the photos and videos from the former employee with metadata indicating they were taken on Marineland property last summer.
Marineland said at the time that the complaint was part of a smear campaign by a former employee who had been fired for poor performance and inappropriate behaviour. It also argued the images and videos may be doctored.
The former employee, who requested anonymity for fear of being sued, told The Canadian Press he quit on good terms and is not an animal activist and doesn't want the park to close.
Last Chance for Animals, meanwhile, has said its goal is not to shut down Marineland, though it does believe "wild animals should be left in the wild."
Marineland is expected to appear in court on Jan. 26 to face 11 counts of animal cruelty charges.
A conviction on all counts could result in a fine up to $60,000, a lifetime ban on owning animals and up to two years in jail, according to the OSPCA.
Since it opened in 1963, Marineland has grown into a large amusement park with one killer whale, beluga whales, dolphins, walruses, seals, sea lions and other animals such as deer, bears, birds and fish.