Philip Demers, a twelve year veteran trainer of Marineland Ontario, was a national celebrity for his unusually close relationship to Smooshi the Walrus in 2008, undoubtedly bringing tourists and money swarming to the park to see the spectacle of the two, dubbed “The Odd Couple”. Smooshi had imprinted on Demers when she came to the park in 2004 from a Russian facility. She was only 18 months old.
Four years later, after speaking out against the horrible water conditions at Marineland, he was hit with a $1.5 million civil lawsuit by the park. The lawsuit accuses Demers of plotting to steal Smooshi and claims that he joined other activists and stormed the park during a live show on closing day. Although there were over 800 people at the season-ending demonstration, Demers remained outside the park. He also lives in a small second-story apartment with no possible way to house an 880lb. walrus. The claims are absolutely absurd.
Demers left the park in May 2012 claiming that Marineland severely mistreated and neglected its animals. He stated that the sea lions and harbor seals were blinded by the poor water quality, one actually losing the lense of his eye after crying out in pain. Dolphins’ skin was flaking off in chunks and floating in the water.
Christine Santos, Demers’ girlfriend and Marineland whale trainer, was later fired followed by a $1.25 million defamation complaint last October. She spoke out regarding Kiska, the lone killer whale at Marineland, bleeding from her tail since July. Santos, who also had twelve years experience, has countersued for $750,000 claiming wrongful dismissal because the park didn’t give her a reasonable termination notice or termination pay. She claims that Marineland supervisors asked her to sign a statement that she had never seen animal abuse at the park. When she did not sign right away, she was fired on the spot.
The lawsuits by Marineland are thought to be an attempt to force their silence, known as a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) complaint, but Demers and Santos are not going down without a fight.
John Holer, Marineland owner, has historically shown that animals are not his top priority. In the early 90s, Marineland housed a young orca named “Junior” in a concrete facility called the “Barn”. He had no companionship, no natural sunlight and very little attention. After 4 years, Junior died. The Barn continues to be used today, unnaturally housing several sea lions, seals and walruses.
In Santos’ counterclaim, she states that Holer uses animals in his park “as a means of generating profit…with little or no concern given for the actual welfare of the animals.” She says he made it clear that “his primary goal was to run a successful business venture and…he was not concerned about the welfare of the animals”. How can you run a successful business if your product (animals) are suffering?
In March, Animal Justice Canada called on Chief Firearms Office to investigate Holer for discharging a firearm in a residential neighborhood, while unlawfully KILLING two dogs. It’s demoralizing to believe that a person responsible for so many vulnerable and intelligent animals at Marineland is a coldblooded animal killer. That speaks volume for the character of the park owner.
In April, Marineland began construction on a fence surrounding the property. Although it is claimed to be “for the safety of families visiting the park”, others feel that it is yet another way to silence activists and keep them from seeing the injustices done at the park, dubbing it the “Great Wall of Holer”.
It is unfathomable to be me how childish John Holer has been in the response to Demers, Santos and other whistleblowers. The right thing to do is most often the easiest thing to do. In this case, the money that will be spent by Holer on legal fees and the expense of the new fence would be better, and easier, served by improving the conditions at the park.
In the meantime, legal fees are mounting for Demers. He has no way of seeing Smooshi or even checking on her well-being since the other trainers are not able to contact him. He says that Smooshi is kept out of the public eye because trainers have a difficult time keeping her attention on stage, as historically she searches for him. Health issues or lack of experienced staff also prevent her from being incorporated since other experienced trainers have also left the park since his departure.
Demers’ best hope for Smooshi and the future of Marineland is to await legislative changes and regulations regarding animal protection laws and animal care standards. He is hopeful for a wild animal importation ban so that the current “stock” of animals cannot be replaced in the future. Demers is also hoping that arrangements can be made for his continued presence in Smooshi’s life, as her wellbeing is being compromised in his absence.
He continues to press on in the right fight against current lawsuit, but he needs our help. Funds from an initial campaign have evaporated quickly at $325/hr in legal fees. Without the raising of necessary funds, the plight of Marineland animals will go silent. A second campaign is currently underway through the end of the month.
Please consider donating to the cause. There are several ways to do so…
At the donation link: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/support-marineland-whistleblowers?show_todos=true
-With a gift of C$25 a photo of Smooshi and Phil will be sent to you with a personalized message of your choice.
-With a gift of C$35 a silver-plated Dolphin Freedom pendant will be sent
You can also purchase an “Occupy Marineland” T-shirt at: http://skreened.com/occupymarineland/om-orca with proceeds going to the cause
So what are you waiting for? Donate today to make a stand for Smooshi, Kiska and all the animals at Marineland. Let’s show them that these animals are priority!
For more information, check out the Occupy Marineland facebook page for links to more stories http://www.facebook.com/occupymarineland