Crown prosecutors won't pursue 'animal cruelty' charges against Marineland

Crown prosecutors say that they have 'stayed' charges related to animal use against Marineland, an aquatic theme park that allegedly held illegal dolphin shows. That means they won't pursue the charges filed by Niagara police in December 2021.

Animal rights group Animal Justice took videos of a show featuring dolphins

Sign for Marineland.
Animal cruelty charges laid against Marineland in December 2021 have been stayed by the Crown. (Tara Walton/The Canadian Press)

Crown prosecutors say that "after a thorough review" they have "stayed" charges related to animal use against Marineland, an aquatic theme park that allegedly held illegal dolphin shows.

That means they won't pursue the charges filed by Niagara police in December 2021. The park was charged with using dolphins and whales to perform and entertain without authorization, Niagara police said. 

The Crown stayed the charges on Wednesday at the St. Catharines courthouse, saying, "The Crown determined that a stay of these charges was appropriate," said attorney general spokesperson Maher Abdurahman.

"Such decisions are not arrived at lightly or without careful consideration. In making these decisions, the Crown considers a number of factors and the circumstances specific to each charge in any particular matter." 

Abdurahman did not say what factors were considered in this decision. 

In October 2021, Animal Justice, along with other animal rights groups, filed a complaint with Niagara police, after they gathered footage of the aquatic theme park running a show featuring dolphins.

Charges were filed by Niagara police in December 2021. 

The animal rights group said the performance included dolphins dancing to Mambo No. 5 for a "dolphin dance party,"  with dolphins "jumping out of the water, spinning in the air, and pushing trainers through the water."

Under a section of the Canadian Criminal Code introduced in 2019, captive cetaceans — large sea mammals such as dolphins and whales— cannot be used "for performance for entertainment purposes" unless the performance is authorized with a licence from the Ontario government.

Animal rights groups find decision 'frustrating'

Miranda Desa, a lawyer with animal rights group Last Chance for Animals, said the charges against Marineland were from several different complaints against the park. 

"It was one charge based on all of the complaints and it has now been stayed," she said, adding that charges could be reinstated within the next year.

"The Crown would have to change their mind and decide that ... it would be in the interests of justice to move forward," she said.

Desa was in court Wednesday when the charges were stayed. 

"They just said the courts are overwhelmed," she said, adding the Crown said the trial would "take a lot of resources" and that the subject matter of the trial was "complicated." 

Desa said in her time as an animal rights lawyer she has noticed what she calls "animal cruelty cases" are often not given resources by the court system. 

"It's frustrating," she said.

The frustration was shared by Phil Demers, a former Marineland trainer and whistleblower who was on the receiving end of a $1.5-million lawsuit by the park until earlier this year. 

"They've once again been let off the hook. The unimpeded abuse of whales and dolphins continues, despite clear laws against it," he said in a tweet.

Marineland 'grateful' for decision

Phil Demers worked at Marineland for 12 years before becoming an animal rights activist and whistleblower. (Submitted by Phil Demers)

In a statement released by Animal Justice, the group said, "Crown prosecutor Michal Sokolski stated that there was a reasonable prospect of conviction in the case, but decided that it was not in the public interest to prosecute Marineland, despite clear video footage depicting the dolphin shows."

Demers said on Twitter, "I emailed Crown Attorney Michal Sokolski today to express my disappointment in his poor judgment in dealing with MarineLand's animal abuse charges. The animals and community deserve better."

Marineland's lawyer, Scott Fenton, told CBC Hamilton, "Marineland was grateful for the careful and principled review of the matter by the crown attorney which led to the decision to stay the prosecution."

Const. Philip Gavin with Niagara police said there is an ongoing, "separate investigation" of Marineland, unrelated to the dolphin show video "that lead to charges," but he was unable to comment further.


Cara Nickerson is a journalist with Ontario's six local news markets: CBC Hamilton, CBC Windsor, CBC Sudbury, CBC Kitchener-Waterloo, CBC Thunder Bay and CBC London. She covers all topics, but has a special interest in reporting on social issues and community events.