Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Marineland Whistleblowers & How You Can Help Them

In the 1970's Marineland senior trainer Dan Long spent his summer days thrilling crowds and riding Kandu the Killer Whale in Marineland's small and shallow stadium pool.  By 1979 the park's original orca, Kandu was dead after only 8 years in captivity and by 1991 Long had left his position and come out against marine mammal captivity at Marineland.  While others over the years have talked about the squalid conditions animals are forced to live in at Marineland, Dan Long was perhaps the first major employee to publically take a stand against his former employer and step into the role as the very first whistleblower.

Long spoke eloquently about the conditions at the park and why it turned him against the idea of captivity.  Owner John Holer learned a lesson regarding employees or ex employees talking about what goes on behind the scenes at Marineland.   The employee handbook soon had strict rules stating no one under any circumstances was allowed to speak to the media and management began making employees sign non disclosure agreements.  When the Toronto Star investigated allegations of abuse and neglect at Marineland in 2012 they were able to source 8 employees willing to make statements on the record.

Phil Demers has been the public face of the current generation of Marineland whistleblowers.  Demers previously gained international attention for his unique relationship with an 800 pound pacific walrus named Smooshi whom he had formed an unusually close bond with.  A senior trainer at Marineland for 12 years Demers came forward within the Star investigation detailing his concerns about the dire conditions at the park and the effect it was having on the animals.  Rather than continue to enable the neglect of the animals at the park Demers virtually blackballed himself from his own career, quit Marineland and went public.  Soon another 7 whistleblowers had made statements including trainer Christine Santos and former land animal supervisor Jim Hammond.  Santos, whose image still appears on the played out Marineland TV advertisements was swiftly fired after refusing to sign a statement declaring she witnessed no signs of abuse at Marineland.

Public outrage over Marineland was swift and loud.  A petition demanding stricter laws in Ontario protecting animals at places like Marineland quickly garnered 76,000 signatures and was presented at the Ontario legislature by Demers and other former staff.   Soon Phil Demers, Christine Santos and Jim Hammond, all of impeccable character were sued by Marineland in three separate lawsuits.  Local media in Niagara, famously biased towards the park also gleefully ran smear pieces  about the trio using Marineland's talking points for headlines.  Demers  was especially singled out.  Marineland called into question their own former senior trainer's credentials, accused him of being part of what they called a "radical animal liberation" group and floated the ridiculous accusation that he plotted to kidnap the 800 pound pacific walrus Smooshi.

Marineland's lawsuits are widely regarded as SLAPP suits - Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation which are designed as lengthy drawn out legal matters attacking any opposition and entangling the recipients in a costly defence in order to get them to back off, recant or shut up.  Demers and Santos have fought back against the lawsuits each filing their own counter claim against Marineland.  Marineland launched a similar suit against the animal advocacy group Niagara Action For Animals back in 2004 and later dropped it.

Various fundraising campaigns have been launched focused on assisting the 3 whistleblowers with their lawsuits and legal fees.  Currently there are two very important initiatives where people can help:

After an initial round of fundraising on the crowdfunding site Indigogo Demers has helped set up another campaign for fellow whistleblower Jim Hammond.  Jim provided many details in the investigation against Marineland including an eyewitness account of owner John Holer refusing to provide proper vet care for animals, shooting the deer and a neighbor's dogs.

The next way you can help right now won't even cost you a dime.  The BiLLe Celebrity Challenge is an online charity competition funded by the BiLLe Lotto.  Visitors to the site simply vote for their favorite celebrity and charity.  At the end of the month the winning celebrity's charity could receive up to $25,000 donated from the BiLLe.

This month star of the TV show Survivorman - Les Stroud is in the competition.  If he wins the donation will go to the Orca Conservancy  AND the Marineland whistleblowers currently defending themselves against the SLAPP lawsuits - Phil, Christine & Jim.

It costs nothing to vote for Les Stroud.  You just need to sign up for the website.  The site does ask you for your cell # in order to send you a verification code to ensure fair voting.  I have NOT received any spam or messages at all from the site.  It is simply a security measure to ensure people are only voting only once a day and with one account.  You can vote all month long every day.  There honestly couldn't be an easier way to help that costs nothing.  Such a great website and a great cause.  I witnessed for myself previous winner and dolphin activist Ric O'Barry accept the winning cheque for his charity.  It would be a real help to those who have stood up for the animals.  I hope you will vote.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for reminding us who the whistleblowers are, and how we can help these people who have spoken out for animals at great sacrifice to themselves.

    Anyone who is concerned for animal welfare should do what they can to help these people who've stepped up for the hapless and exploited Marineland animals.