By Liz Smith – The Brock Press
Remember Marineland? That place your family took you to when you were a kid with the catchy, can’t-get-out-of-your-head jingle (“Everyone looooooves Marineland!”), a proximate location that Canada’s Wonderland couldn’t compete with and oh yes, a captive terrain for a range of wild animals for patrons to awe over. Well in case you haven’t heard (or have been fed the propagandist-spin from our corporatized local media), there are some pretty significant developments around the park lately that ought to spark debate around a multitude of serious issues.
While animal advocates have sustained a steady opposition against Marineland for decades (highlighting the ethical quandaries of captivity and animal welfare violations at the hands of owner John Holer), it was when a slew of former Marineland trainers came forward with evidence of animal mistreatment to the Toronto Star in late 2012 that the greater general public started to label it an ‘abusement’ park. Since then, and through a burgeoning public interest in animal captivity through acclaimed documentaries like The Cove and Blackfish, an anti-Marineland resistance movement has been steadily growing, leaving Holer shaking at the knees.
Like a modern-day David & Goliath, when grassroots activists in any social movement successfully mobilize support and develop initiatives that threaten a corporation’s profit-margin and expose their lies, this is an alarming realization that corporate power is shaky and vulnerable to destruction when enough people decide to take action. Their response? Be shameless and fight back dirty.
Within Marineland, the supposedly ‘harmless’ attraction of family-fun, there are some pretty shady practices going on. John Holer has successfully leased public land in front of the Park’s entrance from the City of Niagara Falls in a bid to deter activists from leafleting information to incoming patrons (otherwise they risk trespassing on private property). When activists moved to the Park exit to leaflet, Holer (with the aid of the Niagara Regional Police) re-routed traffic out the one-way entrance until the more recent permanent solution was enacted of installing traffic lights at the entrance for vehicles to exit safely (at a pretty penny of $35,000).
These bullying tactics pale in comparison to the more serious and alarming lawsuits Marineland has enacted against some of its most vocal opponents. Former workers, activists and even the Toronto Star have been served with strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP) suits (of over $1.25 million+) designed to silence dissent and deter future opposition by burying ‘offenders’ with legal paperwork and defense costs. We see this ‘war on whistleblowers’ gain traction in the U.S now, through punitive ‘ag-gag’ legislation, and more prominent cases such as Chelsea (Brad) Manning and Edward Snowden, but we need not look very far to see that criminalizing do-gooders is happening locally..
Marineland has recently attempted to file an injunction against activist group Marineland Animal Defense and ‘Jane and John Doe’ to prevent demonstrations from taking place, and has singled out and sued activists like Dylan Powell and Mike Garret for engaging in legal forms of protest (they have been targets of death threats made by Holer on tape which the NRP never seem to hold him accountable for).
Regardless of one’s opinions on the captivity industry that turns animals into marketable commodities for trivial human amusement, Marineland’s brazen attacks on free speech and right to peaceful assembly is something that should concern us all. Furthermore, anyone who is concerned about workers’ rights and acceptable labour practices should find it unsettling that Marineland is one of the biggest tourist industry employers in Niagara, yet embodies precarious work (part-time, low-pay, no benefits, contract work). This leaves workers financially unstable and facing potentially dangerous encounters with wild animals (a performer at Marineland was recently injured during a live show with a beluga whale) all the while Holer’s pockets are lined with millions of $$$ at their expense.
The woes at Marineland are plentiful. Whether you are distressed about human or animal oppression (or you’re a progressive badass that cares about both), make your voice heard. NOT everyone loves Marineland.
For more information on the issues at Marineland and how to get involved, visit marinelandanimaldefense.com