The Georgia Straight an online news website and weekly paper based in Vancouver, and one of its writers Travis Lupick. Marineland is seeking $500,000 in damages for defamation and an additional $100,000 in punitive damages, the Straight's parent company the Vancouver Free Press is named in the lawsuit and it stems from an article Lupick wrote for the Straight in April of 2014. Marineland filed their statement of claim in St. Catharines Ontario, a copy of which Marineland: In Depth has obtained.
The article written by Lupick was about five harbour seals sent to Marineland by the Vancouver Aquarium in 2005. The article was published online at The Georgia Straight and distributed in print in a weekly paper. It features comments from 3 former Marineland trainers describing the declining health of the seals upon arrival at Marineland. One seal passed away while the four others allegedly went blind due to poor water conditions according to ex staffers. Both Marineland and Vancouver Aquarium have refuted the claims.
In Marineland's 11 page statement of claim they allege the seal Pepper did not die as claimed but rather died in 2006 before the alleged incident in the article. The other seals named Rolo, Curry, Poppy & Squamish were not blinded as a consequence of their treatment by Marineland and remain "generally healthy" currently living at the facility. They also allege claims by former staffers are false and have been disproved in publicly released documents or reports, none of which were mentioned in the article. Marineland also alleges Lupick made no reasonable attempt to contact Marineland aside from an email to their general address which did not allow reasonable enough time for the park to respond.
Marineland further alleges comments by former head trainer Phil Demers are unsupported and that the defendants ought to have known "Mr. Demers has only a high school education and no formal education or qualifications that would permit him or the defendants to reasonably rely on Demers' allegations regarding water quality, water chemistry, ozone, chlorine, the health of any animal, the cause of any animal's condition, if any, or any matter that is normally address by a veterinarian who is expert in marine mammal care." Demers worked closely with a variety of animals at the park during his 12 year tenure.
Marineland's allegations have not been proven in court.
This is the second lawsuit involving an online news website, last week it was revealed Marineland was also seeking $600,000 in damages from Digital Journal and one of its writers for a story about the health of Kiska, their last remaining captive orca. In each suit the defendants were served a notice of libel demanding a retraction before Marineland commenced further action. Unlike the Digital Journal article, the Georgia Straight article has not been pulled and the news site would not comment on the lawsuit.
Marineland has filed 8 separate lawsuits in the last 24 months against activists, newspapers, websites, journalists and former employees seeking a combined total of $15.4 million in damages. None of the cases have gone to trial.