A Niagara At Large Editorial by Doug Draper
Ontario’s Community Safety and Corrections Minister Madeleine Meilleur says she “was in tears” when she read a series of stories in the Toronto Star this August, detailing charges of animal suffering by former employees at the popular Marineland amusement park in Niagara Falls, Ontario.
That sounds touching and suggests the possibility that Meilleur is sincerely concerned about any living being , whether it be a whale, a dolphin, a sea lion or a bear, that may be struggling to survive in conditions that are less than humane. But tears, as we all know, can be wiped away with one brush of a hanky and are no compensation for taking effective action to address the circumstances that reportedly caused the Liberal government cabinet minister to cry in the first place.
What Meilleur and the government of Dalton McGuinty ought to do right now, in the wake of a series of stories The Star has been publishing this August on the conditions of animals at Marineland, is assemble a team of some of the best marine mammal and terrestrial animal experts on the continent to get to the bottom of what should be done to regulate the operations of facilities like this and whether keeping animals as exotic and complex as whales, dolphins and seals in captivity should be allowed at all.
Such an expert panel should combine unannounced, on-site inspections of Marineland’s animal operations with open hearings that call and, if necessary, subpoena witnesses, including trainers and others who worked at this park over its 51-year history, to testify on the operations around animal care there. This panel should then prepare a detailed report to the province, along with a list of recommendations for a new set of enforceable regulations for facilities of this nature. Once again, the panel should be given the latitude not to set legal standards for keeping animals in captivity, but to make the case, should it see fit, to outlaw any further breeding or importation of whales and other mammals at sites like this for the purposes of keeping them in captivity.
To simply send bodies like the Niagara Falls Humane Society and Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) into Marineland, as the provincial government has this August 23 after the park owners received almost a full week of warning that that they would make an inspection, is a slap in the face to everyone, from the latest group of employees who quit and had the courage to express their views publicly, to every former trainer and animal advocate who has tried to raise concern over the past 30 or more years. Many of these people found themselves being threatened or at the very least, publicly insulted by Marineland for daring to speak out and they and the animals they were concerned about deserve more than an inspection by two bodies – the Humane Society and SPCA – that all but ignored their concerns for decades.
Indeed, these two organizations have been as derelict in their duties as animal welfare bodies that it took a newspaper to inform their boss – the community safety minister – to get them motivated. For the chief licensing officer of the SPCA, Connie Mallory, to tell the Toronto Star three days into its expose on alleged animal maltreatment at Marineland that; “We’ve got to do what’s best for the animals’ welfare,” is a shocking joke.
In February of 1997, the Niagara Falls Humane Society, in response to a request by Zoocheck Canada, a nation-wide not for profit animal advocacy group asking to at least meet in confidence with the humane society to discuss concerns about Marineland raised by a group of marine biologist and other zoologists it employed that had inspected the animal exhibits at the park, wrote a terse letter back; “Regarding your request for a confidential meeting, I am sorry to advise that the Board of turned down your request. … They realize you have concerns and feel they should be pursued at the government level. Sincerely Pam Steward, President, Niagara Falls Humane Society.”
This response is so typical from a Niagara Falls Humane Society which has a plaque on the wall of its building, thanking Marineland owner John Holer for donating the land for the building.
If Ontario Community Safety and Corrections Minister is truly sincere about getting to the bottom of allegations of animal mal-treatment at Marineland, strike an independent panel of mammal experts to the investigation and make the recommendations.
Do not leave this work in the hands of people who have gone through Marineland in the past, seen the deplorable condition of the animals, including dear and bears with growths and open wounds and scars on their body, and walked out of there with nothing to report to you.
The welfare of the animals in this major park and the individuals and groups who have put their necks on the line to report their concerns for these animals over the years deserve – at long last – a hearing from a team of independent experts who have no direct or indirect monetary interests in Marineland.
Please Madame Meilleur – after all of these years of good people sticking their neck out for an honest probe of animals conditions in Marineland – don’t let this opportunity to finally do one pass by.
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