Marineland was charged Monday with six counts of animal cruelty, but the company dismissed the allegations, accusing Ontario’s animal welfare agency of acting on behalf of “a band of discredited activists.”
The latest charges, filed by the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, relate to a number of land animals kept at the tourist attraction in Niagara Falls, Ont.
They include one count each of permitting elk, red deer and fallow deer to be in distress, and one count each of failing to provide the standards of care for those animals.
The agency’s deputy chief inspector, Jennifer Bluhm, said the latest charges were part of a “complex investigation” that began on Nov. 10, when the OSPCA received a complaint of alleged animal cruelty.
Later that month, the agency laid five counts of animal cruelty against Marineland that related to the treatment of peacocks, guinea hens and black bears.
The OSPCA said at the time that more charges were pending.
“It was apparent there were additional charges that were appropriate,” Bluhm said Monday. “While the investigation is still ongoing, these are all the charges we expect to be laid in this case.”
Marineland has denied all the charges, none of which have been proven in court.
On Monday, the company accused the OSPCA of engaging in “a publicity campaign at the behest of a band of discredited activists with little relevant expertise or knowledge.”
It also suggested that the move was an attempt by the agency to appease animal rights groups that have criticized the OSPCA for not doing enough to protect animals.
Two such groups — Zoocheck and Animal Alliance Canada — announced in October that they had hired a former top bureaucrat who helped write animal welfare laws in Ontario to conduct a deep dive on those laws and the agency charged with enforcing them — the OSPCA.
Marineland called the charges an effort by the agency “to avoid further embarrassment related to an ongoing investigation into the OSPCA’s perceived failure to protect animals that is being led by the same activists they are now firmly in bed with.”
The OSPCA denied those allegations and Bluhm said the organization stands behind its investigation.
“We will hold the OSPCA to the high standards of Ontario’s legal system and require them to defend their charges to the fullest extent possible,” Marineland said.
The 35-page complaint that prompted the OSPCA investigation in November was filed by a California-based animal rights group called Last Chance for Animals. It contained allegations of animal abuse along with photographs and videos from a former Marineland employee.
The Canadian Press obtained a copy of the group’s complaint, as well as copies of the photos and videos from the former employee with metadata indicating they were taken on Marineland property last summer.
Marineland said at the time that the complaint was part of a smear campaign by a former employee who had been fired for poor performance and inappropriate behaviour. It also argued the images and videos may be doctored.
The former employee, who requested anonymity for fear of being sued, told The Canadian Press he quit on good terms and is not an animal activist and doesn’t want the park to close.
Last Chance for Animals, meanwhile, has said its goal is not to shut down Marineland, though it does believe “wild animals should be left in the wild.”
Marineland is expected to appear in court on Jan. 26 to face 11 counts of animal cruelty charges.
A conviction on all counts could result in a fine up to $60,000, a lifetime ban on owning animals and up to two years in jail, according to the OSPCA.
Since it opened in 1963, Marineland has grown into a large amusement park with one killer whale, beluga whales, dolphins, walruses, seals, sea lions and other animals such as deer, bears, birds and fish.