It was 2:00am on Friday December 21st and I was putting on my jeans when I woke my partner Crista up. “What the hell are you doing?” she asked half asleep.”I think I am going to Ottawa for the Idle No More Rally. I have to go. If I don’t go I am going to be pissed at myself” trying to convince her and myself at the same time. I made the regular assurances to stay safe and out of trouble and got a ride from Graham and his father to Six Nations to get on the 5am bus making the trek to Ottawa for the December 21st Idle No More Rally.
I didn’t sleep at all on the bus on the way up. There was a terrible snow storm and I stayed up on the bus watching the documentaries that were playing – like Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance – and counting the cars, trucks and other buses that lined the ditches of the Highway. When we got off the bus in Ottawa – around 12:30 – the snow and slush was intense. I pride myself on adapting to just about any situation, which is a necessity I force on myself as I am known for also being unprepared. In this case though, my New Balance sneakers, athletic socks and pair of jeans wasn’t going to cut it. The slush was ankle deep and I was fucked.
I still made it the length of the march from to Parliament Hill – partly driven on by a young traditional Onkwehon:we dancer who was in front of me for the length of the march who danced the entire stretch. She did not stop the entire march, not even for a second.
It had been my first time at Parliament Hill and as I struggled to find places to warm up I also learned about how this area of Ottawa shuts down around 3-5pm at this time of the year. As the speakers were still going at the rally, I was bouncing from coffee shop to sandwich shop back to coffee shop getting kicked out and just trying to find a place to rest and warm up. That’s when I finally got to charge my phone (I am also always known for having a dead cell phone) and heard a voicemail from a QMI Reporter – “You are going to want to call me back and give a comment.”
I knew it had to do with Marineland, I also knew it was not good news. The previous day a story I had pitched to Toronto Star reporter Liam Casey back in 2011, on the mass animal graves at Marineland, had finally made print. He did his due diligence and ex-Marineland Supervisor Jim Hammond confirmed and expanded on those graves in detail. There are four of them – the two largest containing over 1,000 bodies. All of these burials – over the 50+ history of the park – had been done without a permit from the Ministry of the Environment. As Casey called the MOE to ask them about the process, he inadvertently tipped them off and also trigged an investigation into their burial process which halted burials for almost a year and triggered a costly review. As it stands today, Marineland can now bury their dead animals on site again, but with 35 conditions placed on them by the MOE.
Aside from this, Marineland had also already begun aggressive litigation – suing ex-employee Christine Santos for $1.25 Million on Thursday December 13th and since the Marineland Animal Defense demonstration on October 7th their threats against myself and the M.A.D. campaign were rapidly escalating.
Aside from all of this, QMI (Sun Media) reporters and I have developed a relationship where they know not to call me unless it is important to do so. A main advertising outlet for Marineland Canada, who still invest heavily in traditional media, all sympathetic or attack style stories for this park have been run though Sun Media channels.
What followed was a strange conversation – soaked, tired and sick in a sandwich shop in Ottawa on the phone with a Sun Media reporter who wanted comment on a supposed $1.5 Million lawsuit filed against me – which I would not actually be served with until January 3rd, 2013. I denied some of the specific allegations he said were in the statement of claim and called the litigation a SLAPP suit – a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation – a civil suit meant to “chill” opposition to this park, isolate and create internal division and collapse.
The second individual to be sued, the message that weeks before was sent to ex-employees was now being sent to activists – if you speak out against this park there will be consequences. To date, 6 suits have been filed. 1 against the Toronto Star, 3 against ex-employees and 2 against activists – in total they claim damages of over $12 Million dollars.
I can’t remember who the first person I told about the suit was. I frantically tried to contact my partner and my mom before posting anything online and before any story went up. I grew up with my father and his business in near constant criminal/civil cases against more powerful, wealthy people and although this better prepared me for this kind of thing, I knew this would hit my mom like a ton of bricks. When I did get back to the rally I was so sick that “adapting” just wasn’t going to happen. My beautiful friend Zach took care of me for the rest of the time in Ottawa – getting me new socks, shoes and making sure I was on buses and looked after.
The whole year has been mini repetitions of this story – played out by numerous people. Me trying to “adapt” and to “go it alone” and people keeping an eye out and getting me through. It’s been so easy to lose sight over the last year of just where I am at and of those people looking out for me. When you are involved in an advocacy community and you face blowback – with a corporate player paying 3 lawyers $600+/hr to try and isolate and destroy you – everything comes back to you. The good, and the bad. A year on and I am still learning to focus on who has been there, instead of losing sleep on those who are not. I knew this would come eventually, if we were effective, but this is something you can’t entirely prepare for.
One thing that has made this whole process that much easier is that the campaign has continued and continued to be effective. We’ve lost key organizers out of fear and we’ve had to shelve some ideas and strategies because of the risk – but we’ve still made it through a year in the court system. Of all those sued, to my knowledge, we are the only ones to actually see the inside of a court room and face a ruling. This year was a fight and we put all of our effort into ensuring that the physical space outside of this park still exists to demonstrate on. That battle we have won. Although we’ve faced a year of Marineland pressing on this specific point we still managed to hold demonstrations: a massive 1,000 person demonstration on Opening Day in May and two 300 person demonstrations for “Empty the Tanks” and Closing Day. Our design and social media game has stepped way up and we’ve continued to escalate pressure as Marineland tries to use the civil court system as a weapon to criminalize our demonstrations.
When a close friend took me on a behind the scenes tour of Marineland in 2007 I didn’t know that 6+ years later this would be my life. I knew what I was looking at was wrong and I knew that the people who worked there were uncomfortable about it. I happened on a community that was sympathetic and organizing protests in 2009-2010 spiralled into the first ever full dedicated campaign against this park in 2011. So much has happened not because of any kind of particular genius or brilliance, but just because of time and the willingness to take risk and not quit. As 2014 approaches we are winning and we’ve been winning for a while now. It’s been hard to walk the thin line of communicating the seriousness of the situation, while also trying to make advocacy a thing that people actually want to engage in. Today, as I hit that one year mark, I hope more than anything that now, and in the future, I inspire people to take similar risks for things that they feel strongly about. I am still here, I am still alive. I still have my beautiful family (human and non human) around me and I am not going anywhere. Marineland Animal Defense and the M.A.D. family is also still here. Demonstrations will continue and opposition and pressure will continue to build.
Always remember, if our resolve can outlast their money – we will never lose.