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article imageOp-Ed: Marineland owner threatened OSPCA with lawsuit says society chair

By Elizabeth Batt     Mar 19, 2013 in Environment
Niagara Falls - After leveling several lawsuits on former Marineland trainers, the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) has now revealed that the park's owner -- John Holer, also threatened them with a lawsuit.
OSPCA chair -- Rob Godfrey, revealed that the lawsuit threat was issued last January, prior to a Toronto Star report featuring an anonymous OSPCA source. The source, who felt that the public had a right to know what the park was cited for, disclosed all seven orders issued to Marineland since OSPCA first began its investigation of the park last August.
The potential exposure of conditions cited at the park, which appear to support former trainers' and staff testimonials, did not sit well with John Holer and his Marineland lawyers. According to Liam Casey and Linda Diebel of the Toronto Star, Godfrey told them that a Marineland lawyer, "Called the OSPCA and threatened to sue the society if the newspaper published the story, and warned that Godfrey would be sued personally."
The Star published the article anyway, although it is now subject to legal complaint by Marineland of Canada Inc. The OSPCA however, never received a lawsuit it said.
OSPCA and Marineland at odds
OSPCA's silence over the orders issued, aggravated animal lovers intensely. Given the organization's status as a private charity in receipt of $500,000 in annual provincial funding, many felt that the OSPCA should be open with their findings. Godfrey did that today in an exclusive interview with Casey and Diebel.
Ironically, Godfrey's detailing of the orders clashes with Marineland's own perspective of them. Not surprisingly, Marineland administrator Tracy Stewart, disagreed with OSPCA's findings -- particularly over the issue of water quality, one of the main factors highlighted by whistleblower trainers.
Godfrey told The Star that the compliance date for "Installing a new water filtration system" had been extended to allow additional experts to review the results." But according to Stewart, "There is no 'new' water filtration system", because the existing one is a "state of the art, modern and highly complex computerized multi-million dollar" system.
Stewart also took issue over "verbal" orders given by OSPCA and their claims that "Paint was chipping off [a ceiling] and hitting the water."
SLAPP happy?
There is still one question that remains to be answered. How many more people is Holer planning to sue? So far he's hit the founder of Marineland Animal Defense with a lawsuit and smacked former whistleblower trainers Phil Demers and Christine Santos with lawsuits totalling almost three million dollars. Now we learn, he's even threatened investigators.
In the case against Demers, the lawsuit leveled is extremely bizarre. Marineland lawyers have accused the former walrus trainer of plotting to trespass on the property last October and steal Smooshi, an almost 900 pound female walrus. Considering Demers is raising funds for the whistleblowers' defense and lives in a second-floor apartment, the realistic nature of the case is a tad hard to swallow.
Fins and Fluke, a conservation group supporting the ex-trainers, told Digital Journal last month, that they believe Holer's "True motive is intimidation. He wants the whistle blowers to "shut up" and go away", they said.
Called SLAPP suits, a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation is designed to censor, intimidate or silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their stance. The SLAPP plaintiff (Holer in this case), doesn't expect to win the lawsuit; in fact, if it did go to court, it could prove extremely detrimental to both Holer and the park he owns.
Demers therefore is hoping that with enough funds raised and evidence in hand, he can advocate for the animals of Marineland through the justice system. If achieveable, Marineland's own lawsuit could become a self-induced nightmare.
With awareness increasing across the public sector, sentiment over keeping large marine mammals in captivity is changing, and time is not on Holer's side. With each new lawsuit he renders, the Shakesperian tragedy of Marineland only enhances whistleblowers' claims. Hamlet's, [he] "Doth protest too much, methinks", is the most appropriate quote of all -- given Holer's handling of the issues.
But what the park owner seems to forget is that logic will tell the public when people or entities are using errant and flippant lawsuits, and that incurred loss is often because of their own actions -- not the words of others. At the end of the day, the simple truth is clear: If Marineland can afford to pay its lawyers to enforce censorship, then it can certainly afford remediation for the animals it is profiting from.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Ospca, marineland, john holer, marineland animal abuse, ontario society for the prevention of cruelty to a
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