Ex-Marineland staffer demands stiffer animal protection laws
Published Monday, September 17, 2012 7:40AM EDT Last Updated Monday, September 17, 2012 4:06PM EDT
A former staff member of Marineland Canada delivered a petition to Queen’s Park signed by more than 76,000 people demanding stronger animal protection laws on Monday, but Premier Dalton McGuinty said he wants to hear from experts before taking action.
Phil Demers, a former animal trainer, presented the petition to the Ontario government Monday morning after claiming that animals are not being properly cared for at the aquatic amusement park in Niagara Falls, Ont.
Demers said he saw animals being neglected and living in poor conditions during his 12 years as a Marineland animal trainer.
He said he quit his job so he could speak out about the conditions of the animals – including dolphins whose skin flaked off in chunks and several harbour seals that became blind or suffered eye damage while living in dirty water.
He said no laws currently exist to protect animals at Ontario zoos and aquariums.
“Laws need to be changed in Ontario,” Demers told reporters at Queen’s Park on Monday. “They need to be established so that the suffering of the animals no longer continues and that Ontarians can rest assured, rather than guess, that animals are being taken care of.”
The premier said he expects the government will eventually move to regulate zoos and aquariums, but he’d first like to hear the details of an investigation launched into the case.
“We think the responsible thing to do, in addition to acknowledging the concerns expressed through those petitions, is to wait for the investigation to be completed and see what recommendations come to the fore as a result of that," said McGuinty.
"My sense is we're going to have to do something, but I think we should wait for the expert body to weigh in on this."
Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak brushed off the petition and said the legislature has more important issues to deal with such as jobs and the economy.
The Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA) launched an investigation into the allegations last month.
Marineland Canada released a statement on Aug. 25 saying experts from CAZA and the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) conducted a joint investigation and found no “major issues.”
On Monday, Demers told CTV’s Canada AM that he understands that the investigation is still ongoing and that he and several other former employees have not been contact by the OSPCA.
“I still hold out hope that the announcement of innocence is premature and that the best is yet to come,” he said.
Marineland is home to a variety of animals, including dolphins and whales, as well as bears and deer.
Demers was joined on Monday by Rob Laidlaw, director of Zoocheck, a national animal protection agency.
Laidlaw said more than 76,000 people have signed the petition calling on the Ontario government to establish laws governing zoos and aquariums in the province.
“The big problem is that you and I could go out today, buy some animals and start a zoo. We need no experience, expertise or training,” he told CTV’s Canada AM.
“We need some accountability for people who keep these animals in these kinds of facilities.”
Dr. June Mergl, head of veterinary services at Marineland, has said his allegations were without context and that maintaining the welfare of the animals was a “balancing act.”