Marineland prepares to sue former employee

Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ont. (MATT DAY/QMI Agency)

Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ont. (MATT DAY/QMI Agency)

Ray Spiteri, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:20 PM ET

NIAGARA FALLS, ONT. - Three weeks after demanding a retraction from a former employee critical of an animal's condition at Marineland, the theme park says it intends to take legal action.

Marineland's lawyer says his client looks forward to letting the truth come out.

"The issue is alive. At this stage, we're still gathering information," said John Beattie of Hunt Partners, the Toronto legal firm representing Marineland. "The intent is to pursue this vigorously."

Former Marineland trainer Christine Santos was threatened with a more than $1-million lawsuit following comments she made to a Toronto media outlet about the condition of a killer whale at the tourist attraction.

Santos, whose employment at Marineland was terminated Oct. 17, has not spoken to QMI Agency. Instead, she has allowed her boyfriend, and former Marineland trainer, Phil Demers, along with her lawyer, to speak on her behalf.

In an Oct. 18 story published in a Toronto newspaper, Santos claimed Marineland's lone killer whale Kiska was bleeding sporadically and had been for some time.

Demers said Santos received a five-page letter in late October from Hunt Partners accusing her of making careless, reckless and negligent statements about the park.

In a Nov. 2 e-mail to QMI Agency, Marineland said it would "take such legal action it thinks is appropriate to correct false allegations and inaccuracies and to protect the reputation of Marineland and the approximately 700 members of the Niagara Falls area community who work in the park and care about all of the animals at Marineland."

Demers said Santos was asked to write a retraction directly to Hunt Partners and that even if she sent a retraction, it wouldn't negate legal action, just mitigate continuing damage to Marineland.

Santos refused to issue a retraction.

Toronto lawyer Paul Koven has confirmed he has been retained by Santos.

"Marineland continues to threaten litigation proceedings, but to date we have received nothing from them in terms of court documents," said Koven, of the legal firm Gertler & Koven. "We are waiting to see if and when Marineland commences the lawsuit and at that time, I can advise you that Ms. Santos will fully and vigorously defend any allegations raised against her and she looks forward to letting the truth come out."

Koven said he finds it "strikingly curious" that Marineland only chose to end his client's employment after she refused to sign a statement that was demanded of her that said she observed no abuse or neglect of the animals while she was employed there.

"Magically, when she refuses to sign such a statement she is immediately terminated from employment. I anticipate that if there is any lawsuit commenced by Marineland it will be met with a countersuit for wrongful dismissal."

Marineland lawyer Andrew Burns, of Hunt Partners, would not respond to Koven's allegations.

Marineland looking for companion to Kiska

A year after Ikaika was taken in the middle of the night from Marineland to SeaWorld, the Niagara Falls theme park is still looking for a companion for its other killer whale.

"Mr. (John) Holer is certainly trying to sit back and find a way of fulfilling his obligation. He cares very deeply about the animals," said John Beattie, of the legal firm Hunt Partners, which represents Marineland. "He is indeed looking among animals born in captivity right now."

Last November, QMI Agency broke the story of Ikaika, an 1,815-kilogram killer whale that was at the heart of a custody battle between Marineland and SeaWorld in San Diego.

The American marine park loaned Ikaika to Marineland in 2006 in exchanged for four beluga whales.

But in 2010, SeaWorld started legal action to scrap the deal and have Ikaika returned.

In September 2011, an Ontario Court of Appeal panel rejected Marineland's claim that the whale should stay in Niagara Falls. The appeal court upheld a lower court decision that Ikaika belonged to SeaWorld, which had a termination clause built into its loan agreement with Marineland.

Ikaika was removed from the Niagara Falls amusement park on the night of Nov. 12, 2011, by a fleet of transport trucks, a crane and more than a dozen police escorts cars. It was safely taken, by cargo plane, to SeaWorld.

ray.spiteri@sunmedia.ca

Twitter: @RaySpiteri

-- with files from Tony Ricciuto


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