Marineland has launched lawsuits targeting myself, former orca trainer Christine Santos and animal care supervisor Jim Hammond. My latest round of legal bills totaled more than I will earn in this year -- $100,000. Our lawsuits are shining examples of the urgent need for the anti-SLAPP legislation that is Bill 52: Protection of Public Participation Act. It is unbearable to think that this historic piece of legislation -- as it is currently written -- will not apply to the very people who have largely inspired it. Why is the province turning its back on us and leaving us behind? Where is the procedural fairness for those of us who are already proceeding with unfair cases before the courts in Ontario?
In Canada, we have every reason to take an international leadership position on this issue. There are deep cultural connections between whales and our coastal communities -- and economic ones too. Whale watching has grown exponentially in recent decades, part of a global $2.1 billion (U.S.) industry.
Marineland has a right to deny some people entry to its park and to try to ensure that those who want to visit the park can access it safely. However, the steps that it has taken in court to date, and those that are threatened by its legal team, go well beyond these rights. We should all be allowed to protest on issues that we believe in without fearing a lawsuit and without being told which words we can use to make our point. And we should all be concerned when our courts, already overburdened and inaccessible to so many with pressing legal needs, are used by a corporate actor to silence its critics.
Any Canadian who has picked up a paper or watched the news in the last nine months knows Marineland has been in a lot of hot, over-chlorinated water since 15 ex-employees decided to speak out about animal abuse and neglect at the park this past August. Marineland is set to open again this Saturday. This is why we need you (yes you!) to be at the Marineland Opening Day Demonstration.
The day before Marineland ﬁled a $1.5-million lawsuit against me, news broke that the Ministry of the Environment was going to begin an investigation of the park's four mass graves. Two of them are allegedly full of more than 1,000 animals who have been buried during the park's 50-year history. The last resident in the park -- Paula Millard -- threatened that she would kill herself before she would leaver her home. On the night of March 31, 2011, that is what she did. I promised Paula's friend to see this through so that her struggle, as well as the struggle of the animals captive at Marineland, doesn't fade away.
But as detailed in The Star investigation into Marineland, serious understaffing has been one of several concerns expressed by myself and the other former employees who have exposed Marineland for its lackadaisical operation. What job losses do we fear from better protecting Ontario's animals? The fact is, if zoos and aquariums were held to higher standards, it follows that more jobs would be created!
By now, you know all you need to about Marineland. You know that it's a house of horrors for the animals that live there. Some time has elapsed since the initial uproar, and much of it has been spent sending kids back to school or catching a TIFF film or two. We now find ourselves in a scary limbo. Public awareness just isn't enough. If we don't start acting on our convictions, then our province will continue to regress.
In May of 2012, I made the difficult and desperate decision to leave Marineland after about eight years of being a trainer for Smooshi the walrus. I could no longer bear witness to the suffering, and could ill afford to waste any more time. I simply didn't have a choice anymore. There are many changes I'd like to see in animal protection laws, but I also need to be reunited with Smooshi. Her health concerns me, and the quality of her life is greatly negotiated in my absence. She needs me as much as I need her. Her vulnerability humbles me, and she makes me a better human being.
A Toronto Star exposé this week reveals that Marineland is a house of horrors for the whales, dolphins, sea lions, and walruses trapped inside. This rare glimpse into the misery at Marineland has outraged the public but why has Marineland not been charged criminally and under provincial animal protection law?