Running a-fowl of the law

Picture of Nala a buff bantam brahma chicken taken on May 14, 2012.
Picture of Nala a buff bantam brahma chicken taken on May 14, 2012. REUTERS/Steven Johnson

Is it cool to keep chickens in your backyard?

The question of whether you should have the right to raise livestock for food whether you live on a farm or in the city is a contentious issue.

Cities in Canada definitely don't see eye to eye on the question. While some municipalities such as Vancouver and Montreal allow residents to keep chickens in their yard, many cities forbid it. But urban farmers keep challenging these bans.

One woman in Conception Bay South, Nfld., is currently facing a problem with the municipality over the chicken she is keeping in her backyard chicken coop.

Just last week, she was visited by a city officer who told her to get rid of the chicken by March 11 or pay a fine. Alicia Penney-Harnum remains defiant, planning to keep her chicken and see how far the city is willing to take this matter.

She is not the only Canadian to challenge a municipality for the right to raise fowl.

In violation of city bylaws, Calgary resident Paul Hughes was illegally keeping six chickens in his backyard coop. In 2009, he turned himself in to municipal authorities because he wanted to start a legal fight over the rights of Canadians to raise their own livestock in a city.

He got his wish, but it didn’t turn out as he hoped. In 2012, the city took Hughes to court over his refusal to get rid of the chickens.

Hughes argued the city didn’t have the authority to forbid him from keeping chickens, because they were a food source to him, and he claimed the ban violated his Charter rights.

The Alberta Provincial Court disagreed. The court explained the ban on keeping livestock in the city was to protect residents’ safety, and protect them from nuisances. It was also to encourage responsible pet ownership. The bylaw, therefore, did not infringe Hughes’ Charter rights, and he was found guilty.

However, the fight to keep livestock in the city keeps circling back, especially in Calgary where just last year a backyard chicken coop pilot program was rejected by city councillors.

The meat of the argument against the pilot was once again sanitation, noise, and resident safety issues. After all who wants to hear or smell a chicken in the house next door?

This remains the crux of the issue. Raising livestock in densely populated cities is much different than doing it on a farm. Noises and smells will have a bigger impact in an urban environment.

On the other hand, shouldn’t people have the right to raise their own food source, especially as there is no mandatory labelling of genetically modified food in Canada?

It remains to be seen whether Penney-Harnum’s fight to keep her chicken will be any more successful than Hughes’. Good cluck.

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