By Dan Wilson
In 2003, Marineland tried – unsuccessfully – to sue me personally, and Niagara Action for Animals as a non-profit organization (because I was doing volunteer work for them at the time) for $250,000 because I was trying to raise awareness of the conditions of the animals at Marineland.
We held demonstrations, we handed out literature, we erected billboards around Niagara Falls, we did television, radio and newspaper interviews, and we met with city councillors, the police and anyone else we could think of to help these animals.
City Hall despised us, the police defended Marineland, even after John Holer threatened to kill me, and even after his employees assaulted us and tried stealing our protest signs, sometimes while they were still in our hands and in one case knocking an 82 year old protester to the ground in the process.
We were scared shitless when we were served, but we knew we had done nothing wrong, and everything we had ever said or printed about Marineland, and the conditions those poor animals had to live in, was true, and could be backed up with mountains of evidence. We also knew this was nothing more than a desperate attempt to shut us up and shut us down because our campaign was starting to make waves. It’s called a SLAPP suit (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) because it is really about destroying those who oppose you, rather than recoup any financial losses.
Many animal protection groups came to our aid, and we were able to raise enough money to defend ourselves, thanks in no small part to Dr. David Suzuki, who offered to do a talk in St. Catharines in 2005 when he found out what was happening, with all the proceeds going to the lawsuit fund. David Suzuki slammed Marineland for keeping whales in tiny bathtubs, called the marine park a “thug” which caused the audience at the sold-out event to erupt with so much applause I thought the roof would cave in!. In the end, Marineland dropped the libel suit. I’m guessing it was for lack of evidence and all the bad publicity, because we were never told exactly why.
Having Marineland back down, after three years of trying to ruin our lives, was a victory, we were told. I didn’t think so then and I still don’t. I would’ve loved nothing more than to get John Holer on the stand and ask him to explain all the animal deaths there – at the time, over 40 whales had died there in as many years – and watch him squirm and sweat as he attempted to convince the judge that, when you have a business with live animals, you’re going to have dead animals, as he was so often quoted in the newspapers as saying whenever one of the dolphins, belugas, orcas or other animals died “suddenly” and prematurely. Real compassion from a guy who has gone on record saying he loves his animals as much as he loves his children.
But it was no victory for the animals when Marineland dropped the lawsuit back in 2006. The animals still suffered, languished and died, year after year after year. Just as they are suffering today. Everyone knew it back then, and everyone knows it now. But everyone – Marineland employees, local politicians, the Humane Society, Niagara Regional Police, a lot of local residents and businesses, and let’s not forget those tourists – turned a blind eye. I’m glad that some veteran animal trainers FINALLY got the nerve, or listened to that little voice inside them that had been screaming for so long, “THIS IS WRONG! WHAT YOU’RE DOING IS WRONG!!!” and blew the whistle on Marineland.
So when I read that the OSPCA is doing an onsite inspection at Marineland, and that a full-blown investigation might take place and animal cruelty charges could be laid, I thought, finally, something’s happening! There may still be hope for these poor animals (the ones that haven’t died anyways). And I also thought to myself, hmmm, the shoe is on the other foot now, isn’t it? Now it’s John Holer’s turn to be scared shitless.
Dan Wilson is a Niagara resident and a veteran advocate for the humane treatment of all animals.
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