Marineland now facing criminal charges over its use of dolphins and whales
Contrary to what the most-recognizable TV ad jingle in Ontario history will tell you, everyone does NOT love Marineland — officers of the law included.
The once-popular zoo and theme park in Niagara Falls, best known these days for fielding horrific allegations of animal cruelty, has at long last been formally charged by police for violating Canada's criminal code.
"In October of 2021, 2 District (Niagara Falls) detectives commenced an investigation into allegations of the use of captive cetacean at a Niagara Falls theme park (Marineland)," reads a release issued by the Niagara Regional Police Service on Monday.
"During the investigation, it was found that dolphins and whales were utilized for entertainment purposes during the month of August, without being authorized to do so following an amendment to the Criminal Code under Bill S-203 on June 21, 2019."
Marineland has thus been charged specifically for violating section 445.2(4) of the Criminal Code, which states that captive cretaceans cannot be used in Canada for performances for entertainment purposes unless explicitly authorized.
This law states that any person who "promotes, arranges, conducts, assists in, receives money for or takes part in any meeting, competition, exhibition, pastime, practice, display or event" involving captive dolphins, whales and other cetaceans in this context is "guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction and liable to a fine not exceeding $200,000."
Here's some footage obtained by Animal Justice of a recent dolphin performance at Marineland. Dolphins perform tricks like spinning, jumping, dancing, and there is pop music—including songs like Mambo No. 5. https://t.co/SBHzRm1yAb— Camille Labchuk (@CamilleLabchuk) December 13, 2021
Police say that the charge was issued in Niagara Falls on Monday morning and that the corporation of Marineland will appear in court on February 14, 2022, to face these charges.
And you can bet your bottom dollar that Marineland will be prepared for a fight — the corp. is famously litigious, having filed at least nine lawsuits in the past against activists, former employees, media organizations and even the OSPCA for reputational damage.
The 60-year-old park has itself been hit with multiple lawsuits and court orders related to poor water quality, inhumane practices, lack of compliance with government regulations and many animal deaths over the past 10 years alone, but remains open (at least for now) much to the chagrin of protesters.
But it's no longer only animal rights activists who want to see Marineland dismantled: Public sentiment appears to have turned on the facility in a major way since the 1990s, when sunny commercials played up the facility as a happy holiday destination.
Disturbing viral video footage of one particular cetacean, a roughly 44-year-old orca named Kiska who has been living alone in agony for years, inspired a new wave of criticism this summer — a wave that has only grown stronger with each new leaked clip.
We must ACT NOW to help the whales of Marineland! As Kiska circles her tank, Canadians will not abide reports of deaths & marine mammals in distress, due to poor water. I urge scientific assessment & action at all levels of 🇨🇦 gov't! #FreeKiska #cdnpoli https://t.co/PCjaSSuILg— Sen. Wilfred Moore (@SenWillyMoore) July 22, 2021
"We are pleased that the Niagara Police have charged Marineland with unlawfully forcing dolphins to perform for entertainment, in violation of federal criminal law," reads a statement issued today by Animal Justice Canada, a non-profit which last year filed the legal complaint that sparked the police investigation that led to today's charges.
"It has been a criminal offence since 2019 to use whales and dolphins in performances for entertainment. The practice was prohibited at the same time that Canada passed national laws to phase out whale and dolphin captivity," reads the release.
"Yet despite the ban on entertainment performances, Marineland continued to use dolphins and beluga whales in daily shows that it described as 'educational performances'."
Authorities continue to investigate a separate legal complaint filed by Animal Justice pertaining specifically to Kiska, who they contend is suffering based on her behaviour.
"It is unlawful under both federal and provincial law to cause suffering or distress to an animal, including psychological suffering or distress," writes the organization. "Experts have stated that Kiska is the world's loneliest orca."
Update — Marineland issued the following statement Monday after the publication of this article:
"Marineland of Canada Inc.'s educational presentation was designed by experts to provide Canadians with an accessible opportunity to learn about marine life. Our animal presentation contains marine mammals undertaking behaviours they exhibit in ocean environments. These behaviours are combined with an educational script delivered by Marineland staff, providing a foundation in understanding of these important marine species.
Marineland understands why ideologically driven activists would file a police complaint, and appreciates the pressure the Niagara Regional Police were put under to lay such a charge. We look forward to the opportunity to defend ourselves in a court of law where the feelings of non-experts are not treated as facts and the truth prevails.
We have anticipated since the passage of S-203 in 2019 that activists would seek to abuse the Criminal Code in this manner and are confident in the lawfulness of our programming. Marineland notes that this is not the first time an organization has applied unreasonable political pressure to use policing powers against Marineland.
We regret that the Niagara Regional Police have found themselves in this position, and anticipate, as happened the last time activists successfully exerted pressure in this way, the courts will find Marineland to be not guilty, as a matter of law. Marineland continues to be committed to our mission of research, education and conservation and will continue to provide world class care for the animals who call Marineland home."
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