Op-Ed: Who's to blame for deplorable conditions at Marineland?

Posted Aug 17, 2012 by Darren Weir
When the Toronto Star published results of an investigation into Marineland this week, people responded with shock and disgust, but how did conditions become so bad? Blame should be laid with those charged with ensuring the animals are protected.
Sea Lion at Marineland  Niagara Falls  ON  Canada
Sea Lion at Marineland, Niagara Falls, ON, Canada
Digital Journal reported on the results of the Star's expose, with details about how the marine animals at the popular park were suffering because of neglect and unsafe water conditions. Reporter Linda Diebel talked with 8 former employees who described how the animals had become sick, suffered fur loss, skin damage and even blindness because of a continuing problem of unhealthy water.
The Star posted a video about the investigation, featuring first-hand accounts of what the situation was like along with photos of the suffering animals.
John Holer, owner of Marineland for more than 50 years, denies all the charges, saying, "We take care of the animals, better than I would take care of myself.”
Diebel reported that The Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums renewed Marineland's license in 2007 and that National Director Bill Peters says there haven't been any complaints.
Now the Ontario Society for the Protection of Animals is stepping in to investigate. Madeleine Meilleur, the provincial minister in charge of the OSPCA tells the Toronto Star that when she read the article, “I was in tears.” She adds that she “would have preferred” to know about the situation before it was reported in the newspaper and is now asking staff to monitor the situation and follow up.
Connie Mallory, chief licensing inspector for the OSPCA tells the Star, “We’ve got to do what’s best for the animals’ welfare.” “As soon as the concerns came forward, we started to move the wheels.”
But how did the situation become so bad, without the provincial government, the OSPCA or the governing body responsible for overseeing the park knowing what was going on until a Toronto Star reporter broke the story?
It's an indictment on everyone charged with the job of protecting these animals, and it's an indictment of Ontario's ongoing neglect of aquariums and "private" zoos in the province.
Zoocheck has been raising the issue for year, lobbying the province "to establish laws that would force all zoos and wildlife displays to operate at an acceptable, professional standard. While acknowledging that the problem exists, the government has not yet delivered a comprehensive zoo licensing regime."
Blogger Kimberly Gerson writes,"It turns out that here, while it is illegal to own a pit bull, it is perfectly legal to own a tiger, lion, camel, ostrich, chimpanzee, zebra, or any other exotic animal. You don’t need a license or any special training. You don’t have to register your animal and your site does not have to be pre-approved. You don’t need a security system, permission from your neighbors, to be financially secure, or to hold liability insurance. There are also no rules around buying, selling, or breeding these animals."
The same holds true for aquariums.
Five years ago, in August 2007, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty's government promised it was going to bring in new laws to better protect animals by "cracking down" on those who abuse them. Then Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister Monte Kwinter announced, "Ontarians expect better protection for animals against mistreatment and acts of cruelty." "The McGuinty government is committed to
working with animal experts across Ontario to develop some of the toughest animal safety standards in the country."
Five years later, Dalton McGuinty is still in charge and Ontarians are still waiting while the animals continue to suffer. If this latest case of neglect isn't enough to inspire the politicians to act, there is little hope for the future of animals kept captive and being forced to perform for the enjoyment of the masses who choose to ignore the reality of the animals plight.