Billings council to review bylaw for chickens being kept in areas of township

Residents’ petition claims current bylaw infringes on human right to access food 

KAGAWONG—Billings Mayor Ian Anderson says council will be reviewing the question of residents being able to keep chickens in residential areas of the township as part of its current bylaw regarding  keeping and feeding of domestic animals and exotic animals or wildlife (other than cats or dogs). Meanwhile, a petition has been circulated by a local resident that says the current domestic animal and exotic animal bylaw infringes on the human right to access food (food security) and calls on the immediate elimination of all sections in the bylaw that infringe on a person’s right to raise domestic animals (namely chickens) in the hamlet for food security.

“From the recent public interest on this question, I have asked staff to review a number of questions as they relate to both Manitoulin and elsewhere where the keeping of chickens in residential areas is controlled by bylaw and or permit,” Mayor Anderson told The Expositor last week. “We live in a rapidly changing world and from examples that I have reviewed, there are ways for small flocks to co-exist in built up areas, but with conditions.”

“Not everyone appreciates a crowing rooster next door every morning at daylight and not everyone would necessarily know how to provide proper space/shelter and protection for the birds. Respect for the people around you and for the birds should always be considered. There is a need for guidelines,” said Mayor Anderson. 

“The door is not closed and as a council, we will review this question again in the very near future,” continued Mayor Anderson. “To be clear, my suggestion to review the keeping of chickens in residential areas was made prior to any petition that I have heard is in circulation. Petition or not, it was going to be reviewed.”

A petition has been circulated by Kim Neale on this issue, with 191 people having signed the petition as of this past Sunday morning (some are residents of Billings but many are from various areas of Canada). The petition, “Prevent Food Insecurity on Manitoulin Island: Loosen Animal Restrictions” reads: Whereas the bylaw 2021-21, Domestic Animal and Exotic Animal Bylaw, in the township of Billings infringes on the human right to access food (food security) and reinforces systemic structures that increase food insecurity. Be it resolved that we, the undersigned, support the immediate elimination of all sections in bylaw 2021-31 Domestic Animal and Exotic Bylaw that infringe on a person’s right to raise domestic animals in the hamlet for food security. Be it further resolved that we, the undersigned, demand that township of Billings’ elected officials and administrators immediately cease all activities which impact a citizen’s right to food security.”

“This started last spring when Celeste Smith (a Kagawong resident) wrote a letter to council about the bylaw,” said Ms. Neale. “Celeste, myself and others wrote council indicating that, as it is written now with the bylaw having first been passed in 2015, this impedes on a person’s right to food sovereignty (by not allowing chickens to be raised in residential areas).”  

“There have been no changes from the bylaw from 2015 and the newest bylaw, “it has always restricted raising and having chickens and it allows the township bylaw enforcement officer to enforce the bylaw,” said Ms. Neale. She said the township didn’t allow residents to raise the issue at meetings discussing the issue, but they were directed to forward correspondence.”

Ms. Neale explained Ms. Smith had been notified recently by the township bylaw enforcement officer that she would have to remove her chickens, originally because of a complaint from a neighbour and to enforce the bylaw that they can’t be raised in a residential area. “I know in areas like Toronto and Mississauga, people are allowed to have backyard chickens.”

 “We will be going to the human rights commission to protect human rights we have and food security,” said Ms. Neale.  

“We’re requesting the township to immediately halt all bylaw enforcement activities related to domestic fowl in our community; to immediately send correspondence to community members who have received enforcement letters, fines or actions about domestic fowl to let them know the bylaw is being revisited; to immediately call back the copy of the enforcement letter that was sent to Indigenous housing about domestic fowl on Celeste Smith’s property; to change bylaw 2021-31 to allow domestic fowl in all areas of the township, with no restriction on the number of domestic fowl or requiring neighbours to approve; to create a backyard chicken program in our township like the one that Wiikwemkoong has to support low carbon food security opportunities for our community members; to make an apology to community members who have lost sleep, money and time because of this overreaching bylaw restricting domestic fowl; and to reimburse community members for any financial loss as a result of enforcement of the domestic fowl section of this bylaw; to return money for fines, and to pay for chickens/roosters that have been killed or given away as a result of enforcement.”

“The bylaw in question is bylaw 2021-31, to regulate the keeping and feeding of domestic animals and exotic animals or wildlife other than cats or dogs,” said Mayor Anderson. “It replaces a bylaw passed by a previous council back in 2015 which included chickens in residential areas at that time. The new bylaw was primarily intended to include some things like poisonous and constricting snakes, large felines like tigers and a host of other potentially dangerous creatures.”

Mayor Anderson explained, “we had a special council meeting to debate this bylaw which we have done a number of times so we can review in detail the contents of the proposed bylaw. As in all meetings of council and in particular those dedicated to bylaws, the public was invited by myself to make comments by letter, email or phone to staff or council.”

“As it relates to this bylaw, I do recall several comments about bees and the important work as pollinators that they do, but not about chickens,” Mayor Anderson said. He explained, “the bylaw does not prohibit the keeping of chickens or bees in areas zoned rural and or agricultural but rather those zoned residential (primarily within the hamlet of Kagawong or cottage lot subdivisions).”

“Public education on bylaws is an ongoing process in all municipalities. Many people are simply not aware of all bylaws or assume there are none, and for this reason bylaw enforcement always starts with public education,” continued Mayor Anderson. “Our bylaw enforcement officer, like most I have known, exercises common sense, patience and discretion and to date has not charged anyone with contravening bylaw 2021-31 for keeping chickens.”

“Recently, an open letter to the Kagawong community was posted on a local Facebook page which contained some inaccuracies. For example, it said that I voted against an exemption request to allow the keeping of chickens and while the request ultimately was turned down, I supported it,” said Mayor Anderson.  He pointed out, “as in all decisions of council, each member of council has a vote and the outcome is always respected by all members of council.”

“I have said a number of times at public council meetings that very few of our decisions are permanently etched in stone,” added Mayor Anderson.