Marineland sues OSPCA, alleging agency wanted to 'destroy' theme park
Tourists line up at a viewing area to see two Marineland attractions, a Killer Whale calf swimming with its mother and a small pod of Beluga Whales in Niagara Falls, Ont. on Wednesday July 18, 2001. (Scott Dunlop / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, October 26, 2017 4:04PM EDT
Marineland has filed a lawsuit against the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, alleging the organization maliciously targeted the theme park in order to curry favour with animal rights activists and boost fundraising.
The lawsuit alleges the OSPCA launched a criminal investigation against Marineland last year for "improper purposes" and with the intention of harming the Niagara Falls, Ont., amusement park's reputation.
The investigation culminated with the laying of 11 animal cruelty charges against Marineland, which were then withdrawn this summer.
In a statement of claim filed Tuesday, Marineland says the OSPCA laid the charges as part of a broader push to ban commercial zoos and aquariums and promote other policy goals.
The allegations have not been proven in court and the OSPCA has not yet filed a statement of defence.
But the organization, a private charity tasked with enforcing the province's animal welfare laws, says it "vehemently denies all of the allegations and will defend itself."
Marineland is seeking $21 million in damages on grounds of malicious prosecution, negligent investigation, injurious falsehood, and abuse of power and process.
"The OSPCA's purpose in initiating the prosecution was not the enforcement of the law," the statement of claim reads.
"It was motivated by a series of improper objectives, including a desire to accomplish its own policy agenda, to mollify the animal activist community, to please its donors, and to effectively destroy Marineland."
The investigation was launched last November after the animal welfare agency received a complaint from an animal rights group.
The Canadian Press also obtained a copy of the complaint and some of the stories it reported are cited in the lawsuit.
Marineland was initially charged with five counts of animal cruelty late last year in connection with the treatment of peacocks, guinea hens and black bears. In January, the OSPCA laid six more animal cruelty charges against Marineland relating to elk, red deer and fallow deer.
The charges were withdrawn in August after prosecutors found they had no chance of conviction on most counts.
"The unfounded charges and public press announcements by the OSPCA had a direct and seriously negative impact on Marineland's business and operations, causing Marineland damage," the company alleges in the document.
The lawsuit alleges that OSPCA investigators failed to make necessary inquiries of staff and veterinarians, conduct necessary medical examinations of animals noted as being of concern, or spend sufficient time with each animal.
It further alleges the organization has publicly declared that it considers commercial zoos an antiquated business model that should be retired.