“Life is short. Steal a walrus.”
That short message, posted to Twitter on July 23 by a former Marineland animal trainer, earned him a visit from police.
Philip Demers, who worked at the park in Niagara Falls for more than a decade before becoming an activist and whistleblower, says when he typed out the tweet he expected it might cause a stir, but he didn’t anticipate an officer coming to his door.
“I knew when I tweeted it, it would probably garner some level of attention from Marineland. But to send the police … any reasonable person will see just how unreasonable that is,” he explained.
“I saw the police officer pull up and I had to kind of laugh.”
“There’s nothing about my tweet that suggests I was potentially going to steal a walrus. There’s nothing of my behaviour or words in the past that would suggest any [verifiable] threat of stealing any walrus. Quite frankly the notion is absurd.”
Marineland did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Police officer says tweet caused Marineland ‘concern’
Demers shared a video on Twitter of what appears to be an interaction with a Niagara police officer. The video appears to show the officer explaining the service got a call from Marineland “expressing some concern” about his tweet.
The video ends as the former trainer starts to laugh, but Demers says he did record the entire conversation and send it to his lawyer.
He added police have been called on two other occasions after he tweeted or retweeted posts about Marineland. Demers says all of his interactions with police have been positive, but he considers calls about his activity on social media a waste of time for officers who could be responding to something else.
When asked about the visit to Demers’s house, a spokesperson for Niagara police said the service can’t comment on specific people involved in the investigation due to privacy concerns.
“We can share that with the prevalence of social media, when possible, our officers inform and educate the public on what could be potentially deemed criminal in nature,” Stephanie Sabourin wrote in an email, adding police are seeing an increase in the number of calls they get related to social media.
“In the interest of a fulsome investigation, our officers will make every effort to speak to all involved parties to get an understanding of the situation.”
Demers says he’s not deterred
Demers pointed out he has been especially active on Twitter lately, sharing videos of animals at Marineland. That includes one of Smooshi, the park’s one remaining walrus, performing in what Demers described as “extreme heat.”
He and Marineland have been embroiled in an ongoing lawsuit for several years. After the tweet and call to police, he says he was contacted by the park’s lawyer who tried to “force my signature on a speech limiting injunction.”
Demers refused, saying Marineland continues to try to silence him, but that isn’t going to happen.
“The very thing that I have in my arsenal, if you will, is my social media. They’ve got money and influence. I’ve got social media and so I’m using it.”
Despite the visit from police and meeting with Marineland’s lawyer, Demers says he’s not deterred.
The next day he was back on Twitter, this time with a new message.
“Life is short. Steal an orca.”