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Marineland guilty of charges over its care of 3 young black bears


Marineland has been found guilty under Ontario's animal cruelty laws of three charges related to its care of three black bears, which lived in cramped quarters with little access to water for months.

The Niagara Falls, Ont., tourist attraction had sought a stay of the charges related to the living conditions of the three young bears, arguing it was an abuse of process. That application was denied by the court.

Marineland, along with the Crown, then presented an agreed statement of facts in court Thursday, with Marineland's lawyer saying that it would be sufficient “to make a finding of guilt.”

“Rather than take up more time of this court and the parties, Marineland is essentially stipulating that the facts in the agreed statement of facts are true,” Marineland lawyer Scott Fenton told the justice of the peace.

“They would be sufficient for you to make a finding of guilt on each of the three charges.”

Workers feed bears in an enclosure at Marineland amusement park in Niagara Falls, Ont., Friday, June 9, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Fenton stressed that Marineland was not making a guilty plea and the park maintained the ability to appeal.

Justice of the peace Eileen Walker agreed and convicted Marineland.

Fenton declined comment after the hearing and Marineland did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The three bears were born in 2020.

Maddie Black, then a worker at Marineland, went public about fishing the cubs out of their den for fears male bears would kill them. That prompted an investigation by the province's Animal Welfare Services, which enforces animal cruelty laws across Ontario. Marineland fired Black after she spoke out.

The agreed statement of facts, read in court by Crown attorney Danielle Meuleman, paint a picture of how the young bears lived at the park.

The bears - Slash, Toad and Lizzy - lived in enclosures that measured just 48 square feet. The females, Toad and Lizzy, lived together in one enclosure while Slash lived alone. They had access to an outside enclosure no larger than 360 square feet, the statement of facts said.

Animal welfare inspectors visited Marineland in early June 2021 and by mid-June issued orders to the park.

The bears needed to be housed in an enclosure that was at least 10,000 square feet in size if all three were to live together, or 5,000 square feet if alone.

The park was also required to build climbing structures for the bears. The bears further needed some sort of padding, such as soil, bedding or leaf litter to minimize risk of injury should they fall, court heard.

The bears also needed water, she said.

“The three bears must have access to water sources such as pools, streams, or ponds,” Meuleman said as she read the facts. “A water source must be permanent and have an adequate filtration system to maintain institutional water quality parameters.”

Animal Welfare Services gave the park until September to comply.

Marineland did nothing, court heard.

“No new or expanded enclosure was built or under construction,” Meuleman said. “The existing enclosures for the three bears did not contain water features that met the requirements of the order.”

In February 2022, Animal Welfare Services seized the two female bears and took them to a rescue facility due to Marineland's non-compliance.

The province continued to tell Marineland about its non-compliance for the male bear, Slash.

Marineland did nothing, and on Nov. 16, 2022, the province removed Slash.

Marineland faces a maximum fine of $100,000 for the first count and a $250,000 fine for the two subsequent counts. There is no minimum fine.

Fenton told court Marineland and the Crown will likely agree on a joint submission on the fine amount. Sentencing is scheduled for August.

Animal activists welcomed news of the convictions.

“The court decision reinforces why Marineland should not be able to own any wildlife,” said Michele Hamers with World Animal Protection. “How many more examples are needed before Marineland is shut down once and for all?”

Thursday's development is believed to be the first time Marineland has been convicted under animal cruelty laws, said Camille Labchuk, executive director of Animal Justice.

“This is a watershed moment for animal protection,” she said.

“Now, it's time for authorities to hold Marineland responsible for the appalling conditions that marine mammals continue to live in.”

Former Marineland trainer turned activist Phil Demers said the government needs to do more for the animals at Marineland.

“The animals at Marineland have long suffered without any oversight or government intervention,” Demers said. “Today's news turns a new leaf for the future of Marineland's animals who deserve this protection.”


Solicitor General Michael Kerzner said the government has “zero tolerance for the mistreatment of animals” and the conviction is proof its approach to protecting animals is working.

“Animal Welfare Services continues to conduct regular inspections of Marineland and as seen in this case, will not hesitate to issue orders and charges against those who violate Ontario's animal welfare laws,” Kerzner said.

The province has been investigating the park for four years.

One killer whale, 14 beluga whales and one dolphin have died at the park since 2019.

There are 15 bears remaining at Marineland, which welcomed a cub in January 2023.

Marineland banned a Canadian Press reporter from its property last year.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 7, 2024. Top Stories

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