It Is Time For Marineland Owner John Holer To Be ‘Scared Shitless’

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.

Dr. David Suzuki, host of CBC’s Nature of Things, in Niagara six years ago to raise legal defence funding for Marineland protesters.

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.

Suzuki signs books at fundraiser for Marineland protesters.

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.

(Niagara At Large invites our readers to share their views on this post. Please know that Niagara At Large only posts comments by individuals who also share their first and last names. Anonymous commentary WILL NOT be posted on this site for reasons that have to do with accountability and keeping the discussion on NAL as civil as possible.)

20 responses to “It Is Time For Marineland Owner John Holer To Be ‘Scared Shitless’

  1. You gave the ending away when you mentioned that City Hall and the police “hated” you. Unfortunately, there is too much money at stake for there to be anything but a cursory inspection and a couple of hand slaps. (I really hope I’m wrong.) You were a victim of a SLAPP lawsuit; so was I. Mine did not go well as I could not afford to properly defend myself. For you, it was an empty victory because the facts did not come out.

    You are to be commended for your perseverance and efforts to do the right thing for these animals. Too bad the Old Boys are so firmly entrenched in your town. The people really have no say in what goes on anymore unless they take to the streets. Publicity is your friend.

    Again, I hope I’m wrong.


  2. I am so glad at last that Marineland has finally hit the headlines with force-every story I read is worse than the last-the employees have gained the courage to speak out.After those threats years ago,why wasn’t the owner called to task?You cannot threaten to kill someone & expect to get away with it!!As for the justice of the animals,the sooner the authorities wade in and shut this hellhole down the better,


  3. Thank you Dan!
    I remember you from way back when…and glad to see you are still out there advocating for the you…we will win


  4. I don’t believe Mr. Holder has much reason to be afraid of an investigation by the OSPCA. The needed legislation simply isn’t there; consequently it’s very difficult for charges to be laid. You can’t charge someone for breaking a law that isn’t there.


  5. Thank you Dan, I lived in Vancouver at the time heard all about this, before I was even on the internet. You are hero in this region and a brave man. I worked at Marineland as a teen for a month and was personal witness to the suffering. I had to quit. It was so sad. Three years ago I did a phone interview with a “lawyer” whoI think was a journalist from Toronto. He got a hold of me and I told him of the horrors I faced at Marineland in 1996. He explained to me many things about the situation. What struck me the most was after I told him about the deer meat, bison meat, bear meat and deer head in the freezer, he asked me; Aren’t you afraid? ? I said Of what? John Holer suing you? I wasn’t. I knew then why this has gone on as long as it has. Your are sooooo right!! Thank you!!!!


  6. Oh Dan, I wish you at the Marineland protest on Saturday. I don’t know if Holer was ‘scared shitless’, but taking off in his Jeep it was clear from his expression that he in a full-blown rage from the number of protestors present and cars honking in support. It was beautiful.


  7. Thanks everyone. Sadly you’re right, Marg. It’s easy to be a pessimist (realist?) when those with the money and power control everything, but I keep hoping. The police refused to press charges, Judy, and defended him without even going and talking with him! This also took place when his employees assaulted us and stole our picket signs. I was once put in the back of a police car (after being frisked) because I was standing at the exit of Marineland (on public property though) quietly, peacefully and legally handing out leaflets! Sorry to hear that Sharon. Hopefully you and I are both wrong. Hi JoAnne! Thanks for the kind words!!!


  8. Unfortunately, I don’t think John has much to fear from the investigation. I would love to believe otherwise. But thanks for writing this! I would dearly love to see all of these hellholes gone.


  9. This should’ve been happening 20 years ago! I am totally sickened by the govt agencies that allow these poor animals to suffer. It is the public that entertain the thought of seeing nature up close, yet have no consideration or have even processed the thought of the well being of these animals. Visited ” zooz ” only once and felt sick to see these beautiful creatures, some chained, suffer so. Never to return! My heart aches to know these animals are suffering. If John Holer were to be put in the same conditions as these animals, I would surely call that justifiable punishment.


  10. Holer is little else but a bully and like all bullies they are cowards in the real sense of the word. All he has at his disposal is bluster and when that is exhausted he has nothing. Study your opponent and once you realize their weakness you will gain the strength and perserverance to gain the high ground and win.


  11. They announced this inspection, so Holer had a great advance notice to call in all his staff to make it look like the park has sufficient staff on hand, as well as clean up the water and other parts of the park that are subject to scrutiny … of course, a surprise visit would find a very different situation, would it not?


  12. Dan, thank you so much for revealing the kind of protection Marineland and Jogn Holer has operated under for all these years – completely opposite to the lack of protection given to marine mammals and other animals in captivity. I’ve been ashamed of Ontario/Canada’s lax animal protection laws for as long as I can remember. My fervent hope is at long last our government will be forced to DO something other than let owners like John Holer get away with their abuses in order to fill their pockets. Time to stop making money off the backs of voiceless animals.


  13. Hi Dan-Wow!I strive to support Orangutan Organizations in Indonesia so I am now well aware how corrupt the constabulary can be but it certainly comes as a shock that this horrible man has been protected by the police force.This is very sad-how do these people sleep at night,knowing that by shielding the guilty they are condeming so many innocent creatures to more suffering?Thank you for all you have done,I was unaware of the damage Marineland(& many others)have caused,you have spoken out,as have so many animal lovers & given these beautiful animals a fighting chance.I hope for a speedy outcome without any intervention from corrupt authorities….


  14. Hi Dan! My family and I were wondering what happened to you. All of this is just a cumulative result of the backbreaking work and huge voice that you lent to the animals, not just in Marineland! I remember the protests where I was almost run over by Holer and his cronies and they stole the signs. He tried to intimidate us with video cams right in our face. You deserve a lot of credit for defending the animals and glad to see that you are continuing your great work! You can finally see the fruits of your labour.


  15. I appreciate your words Martin, but is John Holer the real enemy? As stated before, he wouldn’t be in business if people didn’t flock to his marine prison. The “weakness” is selfishness. People want to see wild animals up close. People want to be entertained. How do you combat egocentricity? How do you make people think about the welfare of others rather than their own instant gratification? The only way the animals will win is when we stop viewing them as a means to our own ends and when we stop supporting places that do.


  16. The “ONLY” Protection laws Ontario has are for their sponsors “The Corporations” Many Years ago while visiting Marineland as a tourist I was truly not impressed for there was very little to impress …………………………
    BUT I am certain that Tax Payers money was used in the past and probably still is to fund that sorry mess in Niagara Falls through grants and outright infussions of cash by governments probably Federal as well as Provincial.
    The “New” Niagara Falls mayor recently went to bat in media scenes for John Holer and that is pathetic coming from a man who once advocated justice, compassion and fair play when hi aspired for the role of Mayor.
    Thank You “ALL” including Doug Draper and Dr, David Suzuki for the support you give these people who would like to see this blight resolved.


  17. As promised, I wrote my St. Catharines MPP Jim Bradley, MP RIck Dykstra, MP ROb Nicholson and MPP Kim Craitor of Niagara Falls ridings, as well as Mayor Diodati. Asked all for a reply. I was polite. The only one to bother with a response, despite my stating I well understood the difference between Fed, Prov. RMof N, and city (Municipal) governments was Mayor Diodati. Nada from the others.

    Diodata expressed his interest in my statement of concern, but said that the the NF taxpaying base was his concern. Rightly, I suppose. But the fact the others could not/would not take the time to respond to a polite and business-like email, is concerning.

    Gail B


  18. Katherine Honderich



  19. I grew up going to Marineland and took my two young children there before I knew about the mistreatment. My husband and I noticed how sick the deer looked and how “odd” their eyes looked. I felt horrible for them, knowing that they weren’t cared for properly. I was shocked to hear of the mistreatment of the aquatic animals after all these years of believing it was ok to be spending a pricey admission because after all, the animals had to be well cared for. It’s time for the public to fight back. I am so disturbed, my heart aches for these animals. John Holer should be putting money into the care of the animals instead of wasting it away to cover it all up and take on lawsuits. The animals are the main attraction, what is wrong with this world?


  20. Trevor and Kate Van Rys

    I really think it would be best to shut down Marineland.


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