In 2009, community members in Niagara decided to revisit demonstrating out front of the captive animal facility Marineland Canada. The previous three years no demonstrations had taken place as part of the fall out of a lawsuit against the then organizing group – Niagara Action for Animals. It was a mix of new and old, and an influx of young activists drove these demonstrations.
Those demonstrations would lead into developing the Marineland Animal Defense campaign – an advocacy campaign dedicated to Marineland to counter their 50th anniversary celebrations in 2011. Inspired by documentaries like The Cove, Sharkwater and Whale Wars, the campaign launched with lofty goals and 40 demonstrators to mark opening day in 2011. Our mission was to end animal captivity at Marineland through increased demonstrations and increased public scrutiny.
Marineland Animal Defense received legal threats from Marineland almost immediately, sending a cease and desist in 2011 claiming trademark infringement of the Marineland name. We pushed on. By opening day 2012 our demonstration neared 100 people and in August of that year, when 7 former employees detailed issues with the facility for the Toronto Star, our demonstrations swelled to 500. Those demonstrations continued to grow – closing 2012 with 800 people and opening 2013 with 1,000 people.
As the crowds grew, so did the legal threats. On December 21, 2012, the day after the Toronto Star ran a front page story on the mass animal graves at Marineland, the facility filed a $1.5 million lawsuit against our campaign and organizer Dylan Powell. To date, that suit would bring an endless string of legal proceedings; two injunction hearings, multiple examinations, a cost order and a constant source of stress. 849 days of civil litigation means that every single media interview, every single demonstration, every single substantive event is met with a similar flood of threats from Marineland’s lawyers. Marineland is a large corporation, we are a grassroots campaign. Without anti-SLAPP legislation they don’t have to measure the costs, the risks, and they are able to control the legal process in a way that we cannot. The legal system assumes a plaintiff would not use the system this way, that it would be against their interests. However, when one party has a mountain of resources and another does not, this is a perfect way of manufacturing silence. MPP’s Jagmeet Singh and Paul Miller have both risen in the legislature to call this lawsuit by Marineland a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) Suit and both have used it as an example of the need for such legislation. We are grateful and pleased that our experience is being used to stop this practice.
Throughout this we have only been able to carry on as a campaign thanks to a mass amount of support. Even as we have no resources to organize with, and a limited amount of time as well, people have stuck with our campaign and continued to come out in numbers. This made it possible for us to get to this point, as well as made it possible for us to oppose leases of public land by the City of Niagara Falls and all efforts by Marineland to get their wish to get a protest free buffer around their facility against ALL protest. We have always fought to ensure that demonstrations can continue on those small strips of public land outside of the facility. 849 days in we’ve held that ground.
Outside of protecting the ability to demonstrate, we have had success in our goals as a campaign. When we set out in 2011 we aimed to end the import of wild caught marine mammals, end breeding programs on site, remove animals to sanctuary settings, and increase scrutiny and accountability of ownership. As we write this today a bill has been introduced to amend the OSPCA Act to ban the breeding and possession of Orcas in Ontario. Kiska, the last remaining Orca in captivity in Canada, will be grandfathered by the amendment – a sad note, but still a mark of great progress which illustrates that the concerns of advocates are valid and in the public interest. Both an independent scientific panel commissioned by the Government, and a majority of MPP’s have come to this same conclusion – Orca captivity is a 51 year failed experiment in Canada. For Orcas, the end is in sight. Alongside this, Marineland has not engaged in any substantive import of wild caught animals since our campaign developed. Increased media scrutiny is not the best environment for the import of new animals from Russia, where Marineland almost exclusively sources wild caught animals. Marineland knows this. We have been unsuccessful in removing any animals to settings of care and Marineland will carry on with the market share of captive belugas in North America – attempting to shift the industry towards beluga performances and feeding. No one knows if they will be successful though, and in previous lawsuits like the custody suit surrounding SeaWorld and the Orca Ikaika, Marineland argued that without Orcas their business is unlikely to survive. With declining attendance across the industry, we hope this provides a space for these facilities to truly shift their practices away from animal captivity. There is no reason why this facility cannot transition and develop into a full theme park without animals. Canada’s Wonderland – another Ontario theme park – moved away from animal shows in the mid 1990’s and today operates successfully with thousands of more jobs than Marineland. We need to confront our criticism of Marineland not with the fear of what would happen without them – but mindful of the alternatives that we continue to let pass by while we accept the status quo. This isn’t working, and the longer we ignore that fact, the more those opportunities pass us by.
With all of this in mind, we have reached a position where any further Provincial change is unlikely and where Federal change, like the full closure of the wild capture loophole, is currently off the table. Alongside this, for the past year other individuals and groups have been organizing demonstrations within our demonstrations. This means that we have borne the brunt of policing and legal concerns, for groups and individuals that may or may not be interested in our campaign. Taking stock of the coming campaign year, the risk/reward axis is bending in the wrong direction. These were risks we could accept based upon the knowledge that political change was still possible. Within this environment, moving forward as a campaign is tenuous at best. If other groups and individuals are already organizing demonstrations within our demonstrations, it also calls into question the need for what we can do as a campaign with our 52nd demonstration that we haven’t accomplished with the previous 51. A large part of the success of our campaign has been making opposing the facility a routine or habit – every winter and early spring, parents use our site as a resource to oppose school trips, and every opening day, labour day and closing day people come out to protest. People do this because they are concerned about animals captive at Marineland – not because they are attached to the minutiae of grassroots animal advocacy campaigning or leadership. We know that closing down this campaign will not mean the end of opposition to Marineland and we are also confident that demonstrations will continue on in our absence. All of this makes this announcement easier for us.
Effective immediately, the Marineland Animal Defense campaign is no more. We do this on our own terms, based upon our own analysis, and not tied to any legal proceeding. We do this fully believing that animal captivity at Marineland, aside from being unethical, is completely unsustainable as a business practice. They will outlive our campaign, but the writing is on the wall for all to see.
We regret not being able to carry out one last demonstration, or the Children’s March, and urge future organizers to continue to make the voices of children and families a priority in what you do. Every time we have, the result has been our most successful and powerful demonstrations. We also encourage people to continue to demonstrate within the bounds of the law and also to support and respect anyone who steps up to fill any void. Marineland will continue to use litigation as a way to silence critics – filing at least 8 lawsuits over the last three years. Everyone sued deserves a defense and everyone should still stay focused on supporting anti SLAPP legislation which would finally create a barrier to this legal strategy. We don’t expect Marineland to drop our suit and this leaves our organizer Dylan Powell in a precarious situation. Although our campaign is over, please don’t forget this suit is still active.
Over the next little while we will be sending out thank you cards to past donors, making sure all previous t-shirt orders are filed and shipped and tying up loose ends. Our email will remain active even if our social media accounts are down – [email protected] – but we do hope to keep everything up as an archive.
We have stood on the shoulders of a 30+ year history of opposition to Marineland and created a campaign that punched far above its weight. 1,000’s of people have protested this facility since the very first 2 person Greenpeace demonstration opposing the arrival of Orcas at the facility in September 1975. Teachers, lawyers, nurses, veterinarians, professors, grandparents, students, families, children – all ages, all backgrounds, all brought together by a concern for captive animals. Our power was always in people, in creating spaces where every individual could feel like their voice mattered. We will remember the early days and all those who stood their ground in the face of threats in 2011, the emotion of 2012, the hope Vijay created in 2013 with his 1,000+ origami whales and the electricity as we marched through the tourist district of Niagara Falls in 2014. We will remember the children we have watched grow over the span of this campaign and place our faith in their resolve and their dedication to build a better world for other animals. We will remember those who we have lost – like Steven Watson who inspired this campaign, and Sheila White who was one of its most dedicated supporters. We will also never forget that we accomplished what we have using a grassroots model. We never had support or funding from any non profits, never had staff and it never held us back. We don’t have to wait for others to do this work for us, or rely solely on politicians to create change – we can join together and do that ourselves. Above all else, Marineland Animal Defense was a campaign meant to inspire others to take up this call – no matter what kind of justice it is you fight for. We close today proud of what we have accomplished, hopeful for what is to come out of it, and dedicated to the idea that we live, work, play and struggle in the communities we create. Compassion, justice, equity, are all important values we can incorporate into our lives on a daily basis and on broad terms. Refusing to see wild animals as commodities, as assets and profits, should be part of a larger project to revise a society that made such things possible in the first place. At our best moments, together, our energy pointed to this – another world is possible.
Marineland Animal Defense is Dead, Long Live Marineland Animal Defense!