News Provincial

Marineland charged with five counts of animal cruelty

John Law

By John Law, Niagara Falls Review

Marineland entrance, April 2015. Wednesday April 1, 2015. Mike DiBattista/Niagara Falls Review/Postmedia Network

Marineland entrance, April 2015. Wednesday April 1, 2015. Mike DiBattista/Niagara Falls Review/Postmedia Network

The Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) has charged Marineland with five counts of animal cruelty, with further charges pending.

The charges against the Niagara Falls amusement park involve peacocks, guinea hens and black bears.

Responding to concerns about the animals, members of the OSPCA and a veterinarian investigated the park on Nov. 10. No animals were removed, as investigators did not find them to be in immediate distress. But according to a statement released Friday afternoon, the animal welfare group “will be continuing to make sure that the animals are getting the care they require while this investigation is ongoing.”

The charges are as follows:

One count of failing to comply with prescribed standards of care – including failure to provide adequate food and water – for approximately 35 black bears.

One count of permitting a peacock bird to be in distress.

One count of failing to comply with prescribed Standards of Care for a peacock bird.

Two counts of failing to comply with prescribed Standards of Care for guinea hens

OSPCA spokeswoman Alison Cross said it is the first time to her knowledge the group has levelled charges against Marineland.

In Dec., 2012, the group issued six orders to the park after allegations of neglect and animal abuse were made by former employees and animal activists that summer. By April, 2013, all orders were complied with – including birth control for its bears and larger shelter for the elk – and the investigation was closed.

Earlier this year, the OSPCA was back at the park investigating a complaint about the treatment of its beluga whales. Concerns were raised following hidden-camera footage obtained in the summer of 2015 by L.A.-based group Last Chance for Animals, in which a group member was hired as a summer employee.

Marineland was cleared of the complaint, and blasted the group's video as a “hate-filled rant.” It said the allegations were “completely and knowingly false.”

Marineland responded to the new OSPCA charges in a statement sent to The Review Friday, claiming they come from a complaint by a former employee “who was fired for poor performance and inappropriate behaviour.”

The park said one peacock, “out of thousands of birds,” had an issue with its eye, and is receiving “full and appropriate medical treatment” from Marineland's veterinarian.

Regarding the guinea hens, the park said the birds “did not respond well” to the sudden intrusion of inspectors in their pen. None were unhealthy or needed medical treatment, and they have been given an additional area for shelter.

As for the bears, Marineland said the OSPCA's issue stemmed from one or more small adhesive labels attached to the food finding its way into the diet of fish, fruit and vegetables.

“These labels are removed before the produce is given to the bears,” the park explained. “Occasionally, a label is missed. That is regrettable but it does not pose any risk to the bears.

“The diet for and the health of the bears has been checked numerous times over the past three years by the OSPCA and each time has been approved.”

Former Marineland employee Phil Demers, an outspoken critic of the park, said Friday's charges “validate” everyone who has raised concerns about animal welfare at the facility.

“It's more than long overdue,” he said. “It vindicates us in a lot of ways.

“The OSPCA always gave Marineland back-door outs with their recommendations, but always refused to charge.”

Demers is especially intrigued by the charges related to birds, since they are not animals on display for the public yet. He said they relate to a “future aviary” under development.

Demers worked at the park from 2000 to 2012. He is being sued by Marineland for $1.5 million, one of nine lawsuits the park has launched since 2012 when he and other employees came forward with allegations of animal abuse and neglect.

None of the lawsuits against former employees, activists and media organizations have gone to trial yet.

Demers said the OSPCA charges are a further sign of the “paradigm shift” against parks using captive animals and marine life.

“None of this is news to anyone that works at Marineland, none of this is news to anyone in the immediate community surrounding Marineland,” he said. “The biggest news story is the fact the OSPCA actually did something.”

Cross said that the investigation which began Nov. 10 is “still an open and ongoing investigation.”

jlaw@postmedia.com