By Hafeeza Murji
This week, city council approved a backyard hen pilot project that will allow backyard hens in four wards of the city — wards 5 (Etobicoke-Lakeshore), 13 (Parkdale–High Park), 21 (St. Paul’s), and 32 (Beaches–East York). Toronto residents are already keeping backyard hens, which is evident based on the number of complaints received in spite of the prohibition. As such, regulation and monitoring is required, council has decided.
Backyard chickens and hens are currently on the list of prohibited animals due to factors such as the potential noise impact on neighbours and communities, health and safety,animal welfare, and access to appropriate veterinary services. Tracey Cook, executive director of Licensing and Standards, highlighted that through the course of the consultation on the item, there were discussions brought forth from the community that led to more than 2,400 survey responses, including two public consultations where the issue of backyard hens was discussed – the idea of the pilot project was not discussed specifically, however.
Hens or chickens will not be allowed in apartment or condominium buildings. The pilot project will not be referred back to the city’s licensing committee to hold further public consultations. Backyard hens were not legally recognized – they are still on the prohibited animals list.
Councillor Jim Hart: “…Can you tell us what complaints you receive?”
Licensing and Standards director Tracey Cook: “Typically, the hen or chicken-related complaints have been around those that have gotten loose…chickens on the run.”
Councillor John Campbell: “How will you determine if the pilot is successful? Will it be by the number of eggs laid, by production?”
Councillor Anthony Perruzza: (Asks a question about how one keeps a chicken coop in the backyard, how large does the coup have to be?)
Tracey Cook: “Through you Madame Speaker…I would say about four wings span.”
Councillor Mark Grimes: “Thank you, Madame Speaker, I am feeling a little bit ‘cooped up’ – and in order to get cracking with the agenda I am going to call the question.”
Speaker Frances Nunziata: “Now my ward, the rail track is the boundary between Councillor Doucette’s ward and my ward. What happens if the chickens from her ward come over the tracks and into my ward?”
Councillor Jim Karygiannis: “Why did the chicken cross the tracks?”
Karygiannis: “Thank you, Madame Speaker. Madame Speaker, it looks like we are having a chicken summit.”
Councillor Jaye Robinson: “So I hope that council will not support this for the chickens. I don’t think this is appropriate. I am a fan of urban agriculture, but I am not a fan of this idea, and I would like to say this, that this term of council, we have been saying yes to every pet project – no pun intended – we say yes to everything and we continue to put strain on our staff teams…”
Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti: “Madame Speaker, what the flock is going on at city council?” … “Here we like to squawk, we like to squawk like the chickens we are talking about. And I for one am going to fly the coop on this vote, I am going to fly the coop in protest, ‘cause this place is getting absolutely ridiculous… what the flock is going on at City Hall?”
PERSEVERANCE & PERSONALITY
Karygiannis: “‘Thank you, Madame Speaker. Madame Speaker, I was wondering if Colonel Sanders – through you, the staff – if Colonel Sanders has been consulted?”
Cook: “Through you, Madame Speaker, he was certainly welcomed to answer our public survey, sir, if he was so inclined.”
Nunziata: “OK, hold on, hold on, please. I am going to put your time on hold, there is an awful lot of noise, members of council…please, no clucking.”
Karygiannis (On the notion of rooster exclusion): “Through the speaker to the staff, don’t you think that it is also appropriate that if you want to keep the family together and all that stuff, that you also allow the male of the species to be there?”
Cook: “Through you, Madame Speaker, certainly sir we would be welcome to have a discussion on the appropriate participants in any backyard hen program, noting though that we would recommend a limit on the number of hens that were permitted to be kept and we would have to study the impacts as to whether a rooster in the henhouse would be appropriate or not.”
Karygiannis (On the notion of rooster exclusion): “Well I mean, a rooster in the henhouse, I was told when I was small, when I was growing up that it would be appropriate, you cannot have a house without a male of the species – I mean you can, but…”
Karygiannis: “Now I was wondering, through the speaker to staff, I was wondering if you could contemplate what would Colonel Sanders say about the male of the species, being there or not, I am just wondering have you had any – “
Cook: “Madame Speaker, I am sure that some of them are tender and sweet and some are tough and crusty.”
Karygiannis: “Through the Speaker, and I know that this comes from my good friend, Councillor Holyday, I know he wants me to ask this question: I am just wondering, if we don’t have a rooster, how can we have eggs, and I am not sure what came first, the chicken or the egg, so we do need roosters – I mean in the pilot project, am I correct in that?”
Perruzza: “… I have been sitting here diligently listening to folks describe this operation, you know, these two little white chickens, you sit there, and out comes this little white egg and you pet it and it goes back to sleep and it is like the cleanest, sweetest, tastiest operation you could ever imagine.”
Cook does the movements to the “chicken dance,” while answering a question from Councillor David Shiner.
Councilor David Shiner: “How would you measure the noise that was coming from a hen house? To say that it was different/difficult?”
Cook: “So through you, Madame Speaker, we are actually undertaking a review of the noise bylaw and would have to consider how the keeping of backyard hens may or may not impact noise in communities.”
(Followed by a strong round of clucking)
Shiner: “So would you call this – would you call that a noise you could possibly deal with if a neighbour was complaining? Because it is not louder than the noise bylaw?”
Cook: “Through you, Madame Speaker, noise is subjective and that is why we are undertaking the noise bylaw, one man’s music is another man’s nuisance.”
Karygiannis (reacting to the noise): “You know what, I give up! I give up, I have asked him if he would consider in the motion, if he would consider roosters (Interjection from the Speaker: “And he said no,”), and he said no because of the noise, and I have asked him if he has heard anything about the noise, a follow-up question, which part of that am I out of line?!”
Shiner: “Jeez, Madame Speaker, following a chicken expert [speaking about fellow councillor] is a lot of work today, very demanding.”
Councillor Michelle Holland: “I can talk until the cows come home, let alone chickens, about the issues that we have to deal with before council…”
Councillor Shelley Carroll: “But there are enough Torontonians that want this to be allowed, that it really does behoove us to try it somewhere, where there is a willing partner to this pilot…But during that time, why would you hold this back and have a city-wide consultation, that simply, simply confuses the issue, and to use another animal reference, puts a cat among the pigeons in places it doesn’t need to be. I’m grateful to these four partners, go your best lick, I will support your pilot…”
Hafeeza Murji is a Toronto-based researcher who has worked for the Munk School of Global Affairs, Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy and the Ismaili Council for Canada. Hafeeza holds an M.A. from the University of Toronto in European and Russian Affairs with research interests in ethnic and pluralism studies. She is pleased to add research on the debate on chicken coops at Toronto City Council to this list.