Animal welfare activist Phil Demers is a disgruntled former Marineland employee, who quit after the park turned down his proposal to film The Walrus Whisperer, a TV series involving him and a walrus, according to a court document filed by Marineland.
But Demers, now a vocal critic of animal conditions at the park, called Marineland’s version of events “absurd.”
Marineland filed a defamation suit Wednesday against Demers’ girlfriend Christine Santos, also a former 12-year employee, over allegations of animal abuse she made to a Toronto newspaper.
In that statement of claim, Marineland says Demers quit in 2012 to force them “to rehire him on terms acceptable to him, including approval of the proposed television series.”
When they didn’t hire him back, the former animal trainer started a “campaign against Marineland” by alleging to a Toronto newspaper animal abuse and neglect was taking place at the park.
Demers was the focus of a 2007 Review story about the perceived attachment Smooshi, a female walrus, developed with Demers.
Marineland said Demers, and later Santos, proposed to the park a series of business ideas to “personally profit from the alleged ‘imprinting’ of Smooshi on Mr. Demers.”
Marineland says Demers asked the company to market him and Smooshi in a show and for Marineland to sell T-shirts featuring the two together. According to the claim, Demers proposed to sign T-shirts after the show and charge a fee.
Marineland says around August 2011, Demers and Santos obtained a proposal for a reality TV series without the company’s knowledge and permission.
The show was to be set at Marineland “and feature Mr. Demers as its ‘star,’ interacting with Smooshi and other Marineland animals,” according to the court document.
Marineland says it declined the proposal because it would be “contrary to the best interests of the animals, specifically Smooshi,” the claim states.
“It would have been inconsistent with Marineland’s focus on facilitating positive personal and educational interactions between guests and animals, contrary to Marineland’s policy against presenting employees as ‘stars,’ and very disruptive to the general operations of Marineland, in particular the smooth operation of animal care.”
The claim says Demers and Santos were upset with Marineland’s decision. It says shortly before the 2012 opening day of Marineland, Demers submitted his resignation.
Following his “failed efforts” to be rehired, Demers took part in a series of “self-initiated” interviews with a Toronto newspaper as a “self-described animal activist and member of the animal liberation movement,” Marineland says.
Demers said he couldn’t speak to the version of events described in Marineland’s lawsuit against Santos because she hadn’t been served the legal papers and he hasn’t seen them.
But the suggestion he left Marineland because he was upset the company did not accept his proposal for a television series is “absurd,” he said.
“Marineland’s absurd claims against me personally, and their continued bullying tactics serve only to further reinforce the detailed and documented revelations of animal neglect by the 15 former employees/whistle blowers,” said Demers.
Marineland’s tactic is to “muddy the waters” and distract people from problems that exist at the park, he said.
Santos had her employment at Marineland terminated in October.
Marineland says prior to August 2012, neither Demers nor Santos made allegations of animal abuse to the park or to animal-welfare and inspection organizations.
The allegations in Marineland’s lawsuit against Santos have not been proven in court.
The Review could not reach Santos directly Thursday. Demers maintains she will not be commenting on the lawsuit.
The Review could also not reach Toronto lawyer Paul Koven, who will represent Santos throughout the lawsuit. As of Wednesday, Koven said he had yet to see the claim filed by Marineland’s lawyers. Koven said he will reserve comment until he sees the documents and goes over them with Santos.
In the claim, Marineland is seeking $1.25 million in general and punitive damages from Santos.