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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Backyard chickens

Last night council spent 90 minutes discussing the issue of whether or not Londoners should be allowed to house a few chickens in their backyards. At the end of it, it was clear that many of those who were interested in this issue, including some of the media, really couldn't figure out what had happened and where the issue is now.

This all started when Ward 4 Councillor Steve Orser asked the Environment and Transportation Committee to consider amending the Animal Control By-law which prohibits chickens along with ducks geese and turkeys as animals from being kept anywhere in London except on agricultural land or under a special grandfathering clause for any chicken operations that existed in the annexed areas prior to 1993. Counc. Orser was accompanied by a number of other delegations including Oliver Hobson of the local Transition Town movement and a North London resident, a paraplegic woman who has four pet chickens in her backyard. They were given five minutes to make their case. Then, without asking a single question or any discussion of the information provided, the committee passed a motion to take no action of the request. Two days later, the woman (Larissa Gerow) who has chickens on her property received a visit from Animal Care and Control, the animal by-law enforcement officers, to advise her that someone had complained and she had 14 days to get rid of her pets.

Naturally, the media took a great interest in all of this and helped to create the sideshow that followed. Council was inundated with calls and emails pro and con chickens. Some of them included racist overtones and many mocked the councillor and council as a whole. The media weighed in. Commercial radio in particular was very dismissive of the issue and those who supported it although radio hosts exploited it mercilessly. Interestingly, most were sympathetic to the woman in violation of the by-law, especially after a TV segment showed her to be a reasonable, intelligent person living on a well-maintained property in an affluent neighbourhood. It just didn't live up to the stereotypes.

After a week of this media circus, the issue came before council. The gallery was filled with spectators, most in support of permitting a few backyard chickens.

Controller Hume used the opportunity to promote his new book on food security in an urban setting and moved to have the matter taken under consideration with a general review of food security in London. This would be undertaken by the general manager of Community Services, Ross Fair. This motion received unanimous support.

Some of us were supportive of the motion about food security but wanted a separate motion to deal with the specific issue of backyard chickens. While this was not allowed because it would be contrary to the original motion to take no action, eventually we got a second motion to do a review of what other municipalities are doing in respect to backyard chickens. This was supported by Barber, Hume, Armstrong, Winninger, Usher, Orser, Bryant, Eagle, Baechler, and Branscombe and opposed by Gosnell, Polhill, MacDonald, Lonc, Miller, Hubert, Caranci and the Mayor.

The third motion was to allow Ms Gerow to keep her chickens despite the by-law. This was supported unanimously.

Then, a suggestion was made that we have a "pilot program" on backyard chickens to gather local data (and a few eggs too, no doubt). This was ruled out of order by both the city clerk and the city solicitor because it was contrary to the original "take no action" motion and because it was contrary to the existing by-law.

Finally, we voted on the original motion to take no action on Councillor Orser's request. This motion was defeated on a tie with  Gosnell, Hume, Polhill, MacDonald, Lonc, Miller, Hubert, Caranci and the Mayor voting in favour and Barber, Armstrong, Winninger, Usher, Orser, Bryant, Eagle, Baechler, and Branscombe voting against the motion. Paul VanMeerbergen, who moved that original motion at ETC was absent.

So as it stands now, there will be a report back in September with respect to what is happening in other jurisdictions. That will give us all an opportunity to study the issue and make a recommendation which be in the interests of all Londoners without prejudging what we will learn

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I want chickens, ducks, dwarf goats and dwarf (dexter) cows allowed in the urban backyard. The way the urban life is as it is now, is a huge burden on the environment and very inefficent. (waste management, pollution from handling,transportation, retail of food, fossil fuel powered lawn management, health and other costs of mass animal operations on us etc.. )Things could be much simpler and in peace with who we are in this world but corporate guys do not want to see that happening as it is a threat to their monopolies over our food supply & $$$s.