10/01/2015 05:29 EDT | Updated 10/01/2016 05:12 EDT

Bill 52 Won't Protect Past Whistleblowers Like Me

Bernard Weil via Getty Images
TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 17: MPP Cheri DiNovo accepted boxes of petitions from Philip Demers, former Marineland senior marine animal trainer (far right), as Rob Laidlaw, director of Zoocheck; Jim Hammond, land animal care supervisor and Angela Bentivegna, marine mammal trainer look on. Petitions by more than 76,000 people were brought to Queen's Park by former staff of Marineland. (Bernard Weil/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

In 2012 I received a call from an investigative reporter asking for comment on my 12-year experience as a former employee of Marineland Canada. After much introspection and many sleepless nights, I obliged.

When all was said and done, 15 whistleblowers had stepped forward to speak about their experiences at the amusement park -- most anonymously, for fear of legal reprisal. Our actions launched an exposé that triggered a large-scale political debate and international conversation centred on the lack of laws, regulations and standards for the care of marine mammals in Ontario.

After delivering a petition to Queen's Park and working diligently with those involved in the process, the Government of Ontario is now, finally, poised to enact the very animal protection laws that we sought back in 2012.

In an effort to stifle our voices, Marineland has launched what can only be described as frivolous and erroneous lawsuits, targeting myself, former orca trainer Christine Santos and animal care supervisor Jim Hammond. They have also sued activists, media and have threatened countless more with legal proceedings. I am defending against a $1.5-million lawsuit for "plotting to steal a walrus" -- a spurious claim to say the least.

Like most people, we were of the belief that you could not be sued in defamation as long as you told the truth. And we told the truth. But in Ontario that doesn't stop someone from filing lawsuits left, right and centre to try and shut you up, as we have come to learn. Thus far, in three years, not one of Marineland's lawsuits has even so much as gone to discovery -- the initial first step in a lawsuit -- and in all likeliness, none will.

In May 2013, I launched a countersuit against Marineland that they to this day have not defended. All of these lawsuits are being strategically drawn out through an expensive and emotionally taxing process with the sole intention of crushing our fiscal sovereignty -- and it's working. My latest round of legal bills totaled more than I will earn in this year. And all said, thus far, my penalty for speaking truth to power has cost me more than $100,000.

This isn't a process seeking justice. It is simply revenge.

Every day these long, drawn-out proceedings drag on is loaded with anxiety. We are now at a loss to plan for a future without our dreams being clouded over by the constant struggle of having to defend ourselves against a relentless and unjust judicial process.

Our lawsuits are shining examples of the urgent need for the anti-SLAPP legislation that is currently making its way through our provincial legislature, 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. I am kept awake at night because I cannot fathom a process where we arbitrarily have to defend against what will soon be considered illegal lawsuits in our province.

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?

If a lawsuit is frivolous and vexatious, then it doesn't have a place in our judicial system to begin with. As a civil society, we need to have a piece of legislation that allows a judge to decide our fate and not a poorly written bill. If this bill passes as it stands, then our fate is largely determined. Passing this bill without it applying to us is a monumental mistake, as it empowers and rewards bullies and abusers -- something Ontarians should and would be ashamed of.

It is imperative to make Bill 52 retroactive.

We need to put and end to Marineland's lawsuits. They are an embarrassment to our courts and an abuse of process that has already cost Ontario taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. We don't deserve this prolonged and arduous litigious assault. We can do better. We need to do better. We did right for Ontario. Now it's time for Ontario to do the right thing for us.


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