|Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ont. (QMI Agency/MATT DAY)
NIAGARA FALLS, ONT. - Marineland can expect a visit from the Niagara Falls Humane Society.
Humane society executive director Jay DesRoches told QMI Agency on Thursday the agency will be inspecting the amusement park “in the very near future” to investigate allegations of animal mistreatment.
“We, in conjunction with the (Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) and other organizations plan on doing an inspection and an investigation at Marineland,” DesRoches said. “I don’t want to disclose when that will take place, but it will be in the very near future. It’s a priority to us.”
The 51-year-old Niagara Falls park and its owner, John Holer, have come under fire this week after concerns were raised by former employees that poor water conditions had led to animals getting sick.
Along with traditional law enforcement services, the Ontario SPCA has the job of making sure the laws against animal abuse are followed. They enforce animal welfare legislation and investigate complaints using affiliates such as the Niagara Falls Humane Society.
“The Ontario SPCA takes animal cruelty concerns very seriously,” OSPCA marketing and communications manager Alison Cross said in a statement. “We respond to an average of 16,000 cases of animal cruelty every year.”
She said typically the agency wouldn’t investigate a zoo or animal park unless it had a specific complaint against it - none have been filed against Marineland - but both she and DesRoches said the red flags raised by a number of former Marineland employees who have spoken out publicly this week warranted an investigation.
Holer helped fund the Niagara Falls Humane Society’s current building.
In the main entrance to its headquarters on Chippawa Pkwy., the humane society has a plaque thanking Holer for his generosity and for making the building a possibility when it was opened in 1981. The society donated its old building to Marineland in 1979, and in exchange Holer paid for the property on which the new facility sits.
But DesRoches said the 31-year-old donation has “absolutely” no impact on any current actions by the agency.
“Any prior transaction that may have occurred whether recently or long ago, has no impact on any current investigation by the Niagara Falls Humane Society,” he said.
Niagara Falls Liberal MPP Kim Craitor said the public shouldn’t be concerned about a conflict of interest.
“John Holer and Marineland are treated no differently than any other facility,” he said Thursday.
Asked about the animal abuse allegations, Craitor said he only knew what he had read in the media.
“I just don’t have all of the facts, but there are organizations that will go in and look at them,” he said.
Craitor said he received numerous e-mails over the past two days calling for Marineland to close and by others defending the park.
Cheri DiNovo, an NDP MPP for Parkdale-High Park, said the organizations responsible for investigating parks like Marineland have their hands tied.
“The OSPCA can only enforce laws they have on the books and there are no laws protecting sea mammals,” she said. “This is not shocking to us. It’s a wonder it’s not worse because there are no laws protecting these animals.
“Operations like Marineland are self-regulating and we need the government regulation.”