Special Report

In Chicken Vote, Anti-Urban Bias Trumped Evidence-Based Policy

Ultimately, the matter of urban chickens is not a big deal in itself, but it does reflect poorly on Council's willingness to engage in evidence-based governance or support progressive urban revitalization.

By Ryan McGreal
Published December 13, 2012

Last night, Council voted down a proposal to ask staff to develop a pilot project to allow urban chickens in wards 1 and 2.

Reasonable Case in Support

Ward 1 Councillor Brian McHattie pointed out that there are some risks to owning chickens, but a) those risks can be mitigated by responsible rules and b) the risks are no greater than many other activities that are already allowed.

Other municipalities already allow chickens and do not experience the concerns that opponents have raised. The public health report [PDF] concluded that the other cities that allow urban chickens "receive few complaints; less than five per year each," because most people don't keep chickens, and those who do "abide by the regulations in order to be good neighbours and avoid complaints."

Public Health has made it clear that with a reasonble by-law, chickens do not present any significant risks.

Ward 2 Councillor Jason Farr expressed frustration with some of the more hyperbolic objections that were raised: the slippery slope that chickens will leat to goats and cows, or would attract rampagaing coyotes into the city.

Farr said, "I have had so much positive feedback and not one negative email or phone call to my recollection in the last year or in the last few weeks with respect to this issue."

He also confirmed through Tim McCabe, general manager of planning and economic development, that the original council vote to ask for a staff report included a request for information on licencing and cost recovery for by-law enforcement but that work has not been done. Farr asked how council can kill the motion when it has not yet received all the information it has requested.

Ward 4 Councillor Sam Merulla supported the initiative. "It's more than just having chickens. It's about your carbon footprint, eating local, it's really about being progressive. One thing we know for certain is that what's old is becoming new again, and that's probably a good thing, considering some of the environmental issues that we're dealing with."

Merulla pointed out that his grandmother kept chickens in Hamilton. "They were industrious and they were progressive and nothing went to waste, and they lived in a very healthy environment." Indeed, there are people who are keeping chickens in Hamilton right now. "All this catastrophe that we're going to be potentially subjected to if we allow this to happen is a fallacy, because it's already happening."

Merulla also noted that McHattie and Farr are not trying to impose chickens on the rest of the city. He believes Council should support individual councillors who want to try progressive ideas in their own wards. "We will learn from that experience."

Ward 9 Councillor Brad Clark also expressed his support for the pilot project, expressing surprise at how the decision turned out. "My expectation ... would have been that reasonable and pragmatic minds would have prevailed" at the planning meeting that rejected the pilot project.

He decried the "fear-mongering" among councillors who are making decisions based on anecdote rather than evidence. "I envisioned some movie... 'The Attack of the Urban Chickens in Hamilton' - and I don't think it's that dire."

A pilot project would have generated real evidence that council could use to make a final decision. Then staff could come back with a report on what issues emerged, what can be done to mitigate them and how popular the initiative was.

Instead of debating the philosophy of urban chickens, Clark said, "We should be debating the substance, which really is: can it be done? And if so, how would it be done safely?"

Of course, that is not what happened.

Hyperbolic Opposition

Ward 8 Councillor Terry Whitehead argued that a backyard chicken by-law would not just be dealing reactively with nuisance complaints, but would have to be proactive about regulating a "food product" through periodic public health inspections. "God forbid if you gave eggs to your neighbour...and there's a problem with the egg and they get sick. There's a liability."

He argued simultaneously that a chicken by-law would impose further demands on already overstretched city staff, and also that uptake would be so low that the city should not waste its time on a pilot.

Ward 11 Councillor Brenda Johnson brought forward the opinion of the agricultural and rural affairs committee that a disease outbreak from an urban chicken could "devastate an entire industry."

Likewise, Ward 14 Councillor Rob Pasuta counted Merulla's everything-old-is-new-again by saying, "I can remember when horses used to deliver milk and bread in Hamilton and they did their job on the street. They're not going to come back, I don't think." (Off-mic, Ward 3 Councillor Bernie Morelli mentioned police horses, which generated some laughter.) "...But times have changed."

Pasuta presented a nightmare of difficulty with chickens: devastated lawns, rodents and pests, and spent chickens abandoned at animal shelters. He presented as terrible barriers the prospect of building a coop and providing chickens with a balanced diet and water.

He suggested that children can watch videos if they want to learn about where food comes from. In terms of food, eggs are cheaper when you buy them from a farmer than when you grow the chickens yourself.

Incidentally, early this year, a 12-year-old living in Dundas wrote an article for RTH about her chicken coop. "Chickens are one of the most easy pets to take care of. ... Chickens are smart and social birds; they greet you in the morning and are excited to see you at the gate. Chickens can be taught to be held without scratching and can come when called. They put themselves to bed at night so all you have to do is close the door."

Presumably, things get more challenging when there are 20,000 chickens than when there are two. Needless to say, a by-law respecting backyard chickens would lean more to the latter scale than to the former.

Ward 12 Councillor Lloyd Ferguson focused on the risks identified in the public health report, warning that roosters "A lot of people, I'm sure, will want to have fertilized eggs, so they'll get a rooster. And those guys always get frisky at 4 AM and they make a loud racket and they're out looking for mother hen."

He ran through the risks listed in the report:

  • problems with the number, age, and sex of chickens (how many to keep, abandonment of old chickens, and whether to include chicks or roosters);
  • food safety issues (egg safety, unlawful sale or distribution, potential for disease transmission);
  • chicken slaughter (illegal slaughter or lack of local chicken slaughterhouse locations);
  • chicken (hen) care and treatment (potential for disease transmission from sick hens);
  • chicken coop and design versus free range (risk of pests and predators and disease transmission); and,
  • chicken waste (i.e. methods of disposal, odours and how to not affect groundwater).

But he somehow managed to ignore that the report also recommends effective mitigation strategies for all these risks:

  • no sale or distribution of eggs to others outside of the household in order to comply with relevant Provincial/Federal legislation and to reduce the potential for food borne illnesses and other disease transmission;
  • limit the number of chickens to three to four per single family dwelling;
  • prohibit the keeping of roosters or any other poultry except chickens (hens);
  • prohibit chicks under four months of age;
  • the chicken coop shall be located to reduce noise and odour complaints and the risk of disease transmission. Distances are recommended to be at least 3 metres from any side lot line and at least 6 metres from any rear lot line or dwelling;
  • hen coops shall be maintained in a clean condition and coop shall be kept free from obnoxious odours, substances and vermin;
  • chicken coops and runs shall be located only in the rear and side yards and must fully enclose the chickens to prevent them from escaping;
  • prohibit owners from allowing chickens to be at large (outside the coop, chicken run, or off the property);
  • chickens' food supply must be protected against vermin;
  • manure disposal should occur through municipal waste disposal unless a suitable method of composting is available;
  • no home slaughter of hens; only at licensed slaughterhouses;
  • any naturally deceased hen shall be disposed of at a livestock disposal facility or through the services of a veterinarian within 24 hrs of death; and,
  • a permit/registry be required for all coops for the purpose of quick tracking should the need arise to contact owners.

Mayor Bob Bratina's contribution to the discussion was to relate an anecdote about a childhood neighbour complaining about a chicken going into his yard. "The reason civilization advanced in regard to this is because there were large nuisance and health issues that were created and it just didn't work in cities."

Fear-Based Governance

Farr spoke again after the objections, noting that the by-law would address all the concerns that were raised, which were exactly the same as the concerns that were raised before staff prepared a public health report to address them.

The question is: why did council bother asking public health staff to prepare a report on the risks and mitigation strategies of urban chickens if they had no intention of taking that data into consideration when deciding whether to supporr it?

If the report had come back indicating that there were significant risks that could not be adequately managed with a reasonable by-law, that's one thing. But staff were clear: backyard chickens are no more more dangerous than cats, dogs and other pets, and they entail no risks that cannot be addressed with some straightforward rules.

Never mind: Council voted to uphold the planning committee decision anyway.

The motion to kill the chicken bylaw was carried by Mayor Bob Bratina, Ward 3 Councillor Bernie Morelli, Ward 5 Councillor Chad Collins, Ward 7 Councillor Scott Duvall, Ward 8 Councillor Terry Whitehead, Ward 10 Councillor Maria Pearson, Ward 11 Councillor Brenda Johnson, Ward 12 Councillor Lloyd Ferguson, and Ward 15 Councillor Judi Partridge.

On the other side were Ward 1 Councillor Brian McHattie, Ward 2 Councillor Jason Farr, Ward 4 Councillor Sam Merulla, Ward 9 Councillor Brad Clark, Ward 13 Councillor Russ Powers and Ward 14 Councillor Rob Pasuta.

Anti-Urban Bias

If council cannot even bring themselves to take a small, calculated risk on a small urban initiative with almost zero downside, how can they ever muster up the courage and principle to support the big stuff Hamilton needs to do to shift its postwar course of endless suburban sprawl and urban decline?

Ultimately, the matter of urban chickens is not a big deal in itself, but it does reflect poorly on Council's willingness to engage in evidence-based governance. It also bodes poorly for Council's willingness to make decisions that support progressive urban revitalization.

The Council of 2001 was willing to take a leap of faith and convert James and John Streets to two-way traffic, despite overwrought warnings that chaos would ensue.

Today, over ten years later, we already have proof that the hyperbolic warnings never materialized but Council paradoxically seems more willing than ever to bow under anti-urban ideology and fear-mongering.

When the two-way study group for Cannon and Queen streets comes back with a detailed grassroots assessment, will Council take it seriously? Or will they remain ensconced in their narrow preconceptions?

How can they ever bring themselves to commit to light rail transit, a much bigger, more expensive and ultimately far more transformative project that will require deep comprehension of the intersection between land use and transportation but will require Council to make a decision based on evidence rather than inclination?

Yet contrast the alacrity with which the Council of late 2010 - substantially the same as the Council of today - voted to approve half a billion dollars to service 4,000 acres of new sprawl development in Mount Hope on little more than wishful thinking about low-density logistics and warehousing that may or may not materialize.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

66 Comments

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By Guignol (anonymous) | Posted December 13, 2012 at 08:56:46

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1DoEsG7lcRY

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By JM (registered) | Posted December 13, 2012 at 09:15:25

i didn't realize civilization in hamilton was that "advanced"...

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By advancer (anonymous) | Posted December 13, 2012 at 09:23:12 in reply to Comment 83817

Maybe he meant all the advanced green lights that let drivers go ahead of pedestrians.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted December 13, 2012 at 09:42:16

... why am I not surprised Whitehead led the charge against backyard chickens.

Fred Eisenberger and Brad Clark should form their own party of "Hey, yes, we run as conservatives and we really do support conservative ideals, but you really wouldn't know the sorry anti-evidence state of Canadian conservatism today if you met us".

Comment edited by Pxtl on 2012-12-13 09:42:26

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By pearlstreet (registered) | Posted December 13, 2012 at 09:44:09

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted December 13, 2012 at 12:03:39 in reply to Comment 83822

The project was being piloted in wards 1 and 2, and was supported by the councilmen of wards 1 and 2 and their constituents.

Voting against this was a profoundly anti-democratic act on the part of council.

"You support it, your constituents support it, the research supports it, I don't have to pay for it and it doesn't affect me or my constituents in any direct way... but I'm going to vote against it anyways just because I can"

I really don't care all that much about urban chickens, but this vote makes me seethe.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted December 14, 2012 at 05:14:22 in reply to Comment 83833

As a constituent of Ward 2, I did NOT support this. Don't paint everyone with the same brush. Glad to see we are not proceeding with this nonsense.

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By RightSaidFred (registered) | Posted December 13, 2012 at 12:51:13 in reply to Comment 83833

How can it be profoundly anti-democratic when a vote was taken on it and the motion was voted down? Just because a couple of wards are 'for it' doesn't mean the whole rest of the city has to stand outside the coup and watch how it works out. I would love to have a chicken or two in my backyard but I know that most people cannot and should not be trusted to maintain the upkeep of such an adventure and their immediate neigbours would be the one's who suffer. Like it or not, we have a council representing the entire city, its not Athens a few thousand years ago and each section does what they want despite what the rest of the city deems inappropiate. Last night was profoundly democratic IMHO.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 13, 2012 at 16:18:54 in reply to Comment 83843

That's why we create bylaws. If they aren't followed, fines levied, chickens removed.

By your logic we should ban cats, dogs, gerbils, cars, bikes, trucks, stereos, ovens, lawn darts, ropes, ladders, power tools, hand tools, boats and babies... where does it end?

Just because a small group of irresponsible idiots can use these things to annoy others, or put them in danger, doesn't mean we should ban them altogether.

And thanks to PearlStreet for classifying all lower Hamilton residents as too dirty, stupid, poor or immature to be able to handle the responsibility.

Assuming you are the same person who posts on other boards under that handle, I thought you were more progressive than that. I find your post here quite insulting.

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By Swept Away (anonymous) | Posted December 13, 2012 at 17:11:56 in reply to Comment 83860

Http://forum.skyscraperpage.com/showpost.php?p=5926429&postcount=444

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By RightSaidFred (registered) | Posted December 13, 2012 at 17:09:28 in reply to Comment 83860

cats and dogs already have policies in place for governance and gerbils? Are you just trying to be funny? cars, bikes, trucks, stereos, ovens, lawn darts, ropes, ladders, power tools, hand tools, boats are not living things that get out of their pens nor do they smell. You're talking nonesense and sour grapes because some people disagree with you? and babies? Some people should not be allowed to have babies either but that is a whole other kind of arguement... where does it end? Well, maybe it ends with a downtown Casino full of penned up chickens that we all can enjoy? I say bring back cockfighting (insert joke here) Since you're talking nonsense. I thought I would do the same. BY LAWS COST MONEY, MONEY, MONEY. I'm tired of my money going to anything other than Bratina's generosity with the United Way and Peggy's wallet. CHEERS!

Comment edited by RightSaidFred on 2012-12-13 17:12:09

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 13, 2012 at 23:05:25 in reply to Comment 83864

Sometimes I respond to nonsense with nonsense. The difference is, my nonsense is satirical humour.

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By Neil (registered) | Posted December 14, 2012 at 09:16:01 in reply to Comment 83868

But not just to be humourous. You were responding in a satirical way to argue a logical point. Your point was that if we ban chickens then we should also ban other potentially harmful things - which was also McHattie's point. It's a fallacy, simple as that.

The fact that we allow other potential harms is not a reason to add to the list. A bad does not justify another. Also we are increasingly curbing those other harms. Cats for instance are a huge nuisance, and today we're seeing a big push to bring cats indoors, due to the harm they cause to themselves and the environment. Similarly with bans on big dog breeds and measures to enforce animal bylaws.

From an animal welfare perspective, the proposed bylaw does not have almost zero downside. The mitigation provisions in the bylaw are intended to minimize nuisance, but are not directed to the welfare of the animals. There is no provision, for example, to ban delinquent owners from having chickens. There is no way to ensure chickens are kept healthy and taken care of. It reflects the normal view of animals as having only utility value, where the only attention paid to their welfare is at the point of slaughter and preventing disease, with no attention to their quality of life. The chickens would be in a better position than battery cages but worse than free run. Is that good for chickens?

Maybe if the bylaw had a hefty licensing fee attached that ensured regular inspection, and some measures to prevent negligent owners from owning chickens, that would be a start. But we treat animals as goods in our part of the world and it's hard to curb peoples' freedom to own goods.

Overall can anyone say that owning pets is in the best interests of pets? It's hard to say. I don't know if all the happy pugs in the world outweigh all the animals sent to kill shelters for being malnourished or violent etc.

On the other hand there is also an upside that people may become increasingly aware of animal welfare by being closer to them. But that also involves using the animals in question in what will overall be a negative way, to teach people a lesson.

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By D. Shields (registered) | Posted December 15, 2012 at 11:44:54 in reply to Comment 83886

Quoting Neil:" Similarly with bans on big dog breeds and measures to enforce animal bylaws."


Breed bans never had anything to do with size. Staffordshire Bull Terriers (one of the 5 Ontario Banned Breeds) are about a foot high @ the shoulders. (or if you like, about the size of a English Cocker Spaniel. FYI,Cocker Spaniels held the 'bites on humans record in N. America, last time I looked at the stats.)


Quoting Neil: "But we treat animals as goods in our part of the world and it's hard to curb peoples' freedom to own goods."


I think poor owners treat pets as chattels, & little else. Most of us have gotten beyond the idea that animals are not sentient beings, & do not feel pain, emotions etc. Of course this is Hamilton, so I might be mistaken..? :(


Quoting Neil: "Overall can anyone say that owning pets is in the best interests of pets? It's hard to say. I don't know if all the happy pugs in the world outweigh all the animals sent to kill shelters for being malnourished or violent etc.


Neil. are you seriously channeling PETA & other nut case Orgs.? Most animals get sent to shelters NOT because of active ill treatment, or being the animal being 'violent'. Most animals end up there because of our (sometimes) quasi-religious or macho attitudes about spay & neuter, inability of the owners to afford spay/neuter, & poorly thought out acquisition before they get a pet. "Can we afford it?" Another problem is animals being bred on a 'factory level', or if you like puppy & kitten mills. There are no designated homes for these animals before the dogs/cats are bred. There are companies in the U.S. that breed multi 1000's of animals every year, truck them all over the U.S. & Canada into pet stores. Most of these animals are genetically messed up & will cost the owners huge Vet costs, & a lot of heartache when the animals die at an early age. These are frequently the animals that end up in shelters & breed rescues, because their owners cannot afford the enormous Veterinary costs any more. People buy in pets ignorance, because Nobody informs them of the cost involved beforehand. Your local shelter will do that, & give a cut rate on spay & neuter.

A pet is why many people get up in the morning, & function..& I'm not just talking about the lonely elderly. (with a 50%+ divorce rate, why would you doubt it?) Kids can learn a lot about being responsible & caring from owning a pet. If parents get a suitable pet from a local shelter or rescue, it's Win Win for everyone!

Comment edited by D. Shields on 2012-12-15 12:54:02

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By Neil (registered) | Posted December 15, 2012 at 14:11:38 in reply to Comment 83970

pets are great to those who love them. I don't know how you can assert that we've moved past believing animals aren't sentient beings. The vast majority of people still buys bacon and eggs from animals that are essentially treated as inanimate.

I think overall most pets have it good, but many suffer from the exact things we both recognize, bad breeders and bad owners - I'm not sure where our disagreement is there. You seem to think the good outweighs the bad, the love pets bring outweighs the harm done to many of them. I argue it's not a win win, it's a lose for the pets killed and suffering, and that we do not have the legal capacity to address these problems. But more importantly, this would be far worse for urban chickens, who would obviously be a step below pets. They would be in marginally better positions than battery cages, vulnerable to all the problems of bad ownership we agree on. You could make the argument that these are better eggs than you buy in the store, which isn't saying much, or even that your specific chickens have it really great - but there would still be the problem of the door you've opened to abuse.

As for PETA, who knows. I think the fact that people love their pets so dearly yet are still willing to eat bacon is a pretty strong indictment of our double standards.

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By RightSaidFred (registered) | Posted December 14, 2012 at 09:13:38 in reply to Comment 83868

As long as you can amuse yourself I am fine with that.

Comment edited by RightSaidFred on 2012-12-14 09:18:56

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By PearlStreet (registered) | Posted December 13, 2012 at 13:10:28 in reply to Comment 83843

Amen

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By Rotisserie (anonymous) | Posted December 13, 2012 at 10:08:35

Nice mix of upper/lower city, pre- and post-amalgamation wards, veterans and newbies coming together to roast urban chickens. 'Tis the season, I guess.

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By NortheastWind (registered) | Posted December 13, 2012 at 10:31:36

My neighbour has two chickens that I never hear nor smell nor see. No complaints here.

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By PearlStreet (registered) | Posted December 13, 2012 at 10:45:14

You want to devote more funds for already overburdened by-law officers to mitigate this? We are already having to grow our 31 officers to 17 more for our rental apartment issues.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted December 13, 2012 at 12:48:00 in reply to Comment 83827

Considering the scale of fines in this town, I'm actually surprised bylaw officers aren't revenue neutral. I mean, take a stroll through Westdale two days after a snow-storm and flag all the rental houses that don't have their sidewalks properly cleared and you could get enough citations put together for a month's salary.

Comment edited by Pxtl on 2012-12-13 12:48:16

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By D. Shields (registered) | Posted December 15, 2012 at 12:14:27 in reply to Comment 83841

Speaking of by-laws, I found a new one on the Hamilton web site not long after Council's discussion about amending the Hamilton Animal By-Laws & adopting the Calgary Model.(Which Council did not do. They'd rather spend money to warehouse animals, & kill them. It would have saved tax payers tons of money to implement even part of the Calgary Model, but hey,..It's only Your Money! To paraphrase it: A dog owner could get a $10,000.00 fine for walking their dog (leashed, licensed, pooper scooped & well behaved) with 100? meteres any school yard, designated sports field, or playground, no matter if: School was out, the sports field was not in use in the Winter, or it was later in the evening, & no children were in the playground area. No fences or designation need be in place to enforce the by-law. You have to take a measuring tape to ensure that the sidewalk you are on is 100? meters from any of these park facilities. (since I'd pass through all 3 types in my local park, I guess I could be fined $30,000.00 for one trip?)

We are very green space poor in all of Hamilton, 'Burbs included. Almost all parks have been designated as one or all of these 3 types of recreational areas. So you can now get a $10,000.00 fine for walking across a park with your dog to the local variety store get a carton of milk? What other 'crimes' would merit a $10,000.00 fine? Vehicular Homicide? A 3rd. conviction of drunk/impaired driving? Arson with serious property damage? I have since checked for this new by-law on the Hamilton web site & have not been able to find it again. So did somebody decide this was 'Overkill'? Or is that by-law just lurking like a great white shark, waiting to catch somebody for committing the 'unspeakable crime of walking a leashed, licensed dog, with pooper-scooper bags @ the ready, @ 8 p.m. to get some milk'? If anyone asks, "Why spend tax $$ on dog parks & leash frees?" maybe this is your answer? Idiotic fines for none-crimes? I guess that fine can be rationalized as 'fair' if there is a dog park- 10 miles away?

Comment edited by D. Shields on 2012-12-15 12:23:09

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By PearlStreet (registered) | Posted December 13, 2012 at 12:59:48 in reply to Comment 83841

Good point, but depending the offence you are given a warning.

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By D. Shields (registered) | Posted December 15, 2012 at 12:48:02 in reply to Comment 83844

Maybe...? Or maybe not.It might depend on how broke 'Hamilton' is this month. $10,000.00 is a Lot of money in one go. For any city to even think about implementing something like that by-law, you have to admit an huge anti-pet/dog culture or philosophy @ City Hall. This is the kind of by-law that you see in 3rd. world countries, or Canada's far North, where free roaming, starving, semi feral packs of dogs do pose a threat to people, esp. small children. This is not your typical urban by-law, but "shoot, shovel, & shut up" won't get you $10,000.00 in fines. I suspect this by-law was back lash from the little boy who was mauled by 2 loose running, escaped, & unsupervised Rottweiler dogs in a park in Hamilton last year. This is not the same as a person walking a leased dog, & this by-law would Not have prevented that tragedy.(Animal Control is likely short staffed on Boxing Day, when this happened.) IMHO, it's just another money grab, because it makes no sense as anything else..

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted December 13, 2012 at 10:57:43 in reply to Comment 83827

We won't get a chance to see what the licencing/cost recovery implications might be, since Council killed the initiative before staff actually provided the information Council had requested on this issue.

Based on the data from other jurisdictions that have a chicken by-law, and based on the fact that there are people in Hamilton right now who keep chickens without any issues, the public health argument is nothing more than a scare-mongering non-starter.

Bottom line: there is no compelling argument and no good reason for Council not to allow responsible residents to own a small number of hens for personal use. Councillors formed their opinions - as it appears you have formed yours - based on dogma and narrow preconceptions rather than based on evidence.

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By RightSaidFred (registered) | Posted December 13, 2012 at 13:07:11 in reply to Comment 83829

How does one go about determining who a 'responsible resident' might be? Would it be like adopting a child, would there be an interview process in the very least? Would the chicken get to meet prospective adoptees and have a cluck as to who she wants to be with? Just asking. This 'not going to cost a thing' is getting more expensive with each post I keep reading here.

Comment edited by RightSaidFred on 2012-12-13 13:21:13

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted December 13, 2012 at 13:49:22 in reply to Comment 83845

How does one go about determining who a 'responsible resident' might be?

It's quite simple: a responsible resident is someone who obeys the by-law. Did you notice that other cities that have chicken by-laws don't have problems with them? Why do you assume this will lead to all sorts of problems when the evidence clearly indicates that it won't?

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted December 14, 2012 at 09:49:53 in reply to Comment 83850

a responsible resident is someone who obeys the by-law.

Just like all those other by-laws that get obeyed in this city?

In a city that can't seem to control neglected and derelict properties I'd be a bit more cautious about trumpeting the effectiveness of our by-laws.

It is interesting, on one-hand you like to accuse this city of "epic failure" on simple things like crosswalks, walkability, sidewalk replacement, etc... You regularly criticize the city and its staff for the inability to do very "simple" things. But when it suits you, you switch gears and simply say it is all good we'll just have by-laws and the city can worry about policing these issues. And I suppose the city will manage this as well as it manages other "simple" issues?

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted December 14, 2012 at 10:13:44 in reply to Comment 83892

The problem in this city is that we suffer under a legacy of heavy-handed regulations that make it so unnecessarily difficult to do innocuous or positive things that people either go underground (and are therefore totally unregulated) or simply give up.

The reason we have a problem with illegal rental conversions is that the Zoning By-Law makes it effectively impossible to do a rental conversion legally. A prospective landlord can expect to spend many months and pay tens of thousands of dollars in ridiculous variances, arbitrary fees and pointless restrictions - and may still be rejected for any reason.

Most people - responsible and irresponsible landlords alike - decide to break the law and do it anyway rather than trying to work through a broken system.


It's the same for commercial activity. Friends of mine wanted to open a store so they went to the City and asked for a zoning verification study on the property they were thinking of renting. The city confirmed that it was zoned for commercial use so they signed the lease and began preparing to open.

After months of jumping through regulatory hoops, they learned from the city that the property was only zoned to sell fireplaces or antiques and they would need to apply for a zoning variance if they wanted to sell anything else.

The result of this regime of dysfunctional regulations is threefold:

  • Some people who might start ventures in a more supportive environment simply don't.
  • Some people who are determined to start a venture end up moving to a different city.
  • Some people who are determined to start a venture do it anyway, and they take the risk of breaking the law.

All three outcomes are negative for Hamilton's economic and social vitality, and they need to change.


The exact same principles of restriction, fear-mongering and risk-aversity are at work in the chicken bylaw. Instead of creating simple, reasonable rules that responsible people can easily follow, we make it impossible to do it legally and drive the activity underground.

There are currently a significant number of people in the city who illegally own urban chickens (though there's probably no accurate way of knowing how many). We don't hear about them because they aren't causing any problems.

A pilot project to provide a legal path to chicken ownership would have demonstrated whether the fears of negative impacts are well-founded or misplaced, and would have indicated what regulations are required to ensure that the activity is undertaken safely.

Instead, we will have to continue guessing because people who decide to keep chickens will continue to do so illegally and in secret.


I expect the City to undertake its duties in a fair, responsible and evidence-based manner. I am not surprised when the City does not do this, but I refuse to lower my expectations to the point where they are already met.

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By RightSaidFred (registered) | Posted December 13, 2012 at 15:17:37 in reply to Comment 83850

I am assuming this is going to cost a lot of money to police. Something I, as a citizen of this city am not on board with. I have nothing against chickens and nothing against 'responsible residents' wanting chickens. I am completely against the cost of paying to monitor it. In these times, we have bigger things to attend to in this city.

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By PearlStreet (registered) | Posted December 13, 2012 at 14:09:15 in reply to Comment 83850

Ryan, it’s clear no one obeys this, hence the whole rental problem we have! Don't tell me this isn't relative. Other jurisdictions don't have this problem. In this case, I beleve evidence like this trumps other evidence, a rounded clear prospective of our council perseveres. It's a priority to deal with this first, then chickens.

Comment edited by PearlStreet on 2012-12-13 14:14:33

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 13, 2012 at 16:23:51 in reply to Comment 83851

You wrote in another forum:

So I contacted the city of Hamilton to see the costs involved of converting my rental into a legally zoned du-plex. Apparantly just to start it's only twenty-eight thousand dollars! If it needs to be brought before their board as mine would due to my smaller lot size, it will be more for their hassel (and mine). Then of course this is before all building fees to conform to the fire, electrical and building codes.... Good lord! I may as well just go sell it and buy a different one that someone else has already paid the fees for, that way there are no more surprises!

This is why no one obeys the multi unit bylaws. It is not because they are stupid, lazy, poor or dirty. It is because it's financially impossible to do it right. Hamilton shot itself in the foot with that bylaw and it's doing it again with the chicken one. Let's just wait and see them take an uzi to it with this casino thing!

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted December 13, 2012 at 14:33:17 in reply to Comment 83851

We have a problem with illegal rental conversions because we've made it pretty much impossible to do a rental conversion legally. The zoning by-law is practically designed to force conversions underground through such ridiculous mandates as setback variances, cash in lieu of parking, cash in lieu of parkland, and so on, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2012-12-13 14:41:17

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By pearlstreet (registered) | Posted December 13, 2012 at 12:27:05 in reply to Comment 83829

My 'dogma and narrow preconceptions' are not as narrow as my proximity to my many neighbours. This is a problem as it is also not a priority. You have formed an opinion too, obviously. This ruffles your feathers Ryan, but after living on the mountain, in Strathcona, then Landsdale, I do see a proximity and potential health issue, particular to Landsdale . Let me explain… Council makes decisions based on other current happenings within this city as a whole and not topic based of course. Other jurisdictions are not anything like ours for one big reason: Safety, hygiene, garbage and Plain Jane over-crowding in rental homes is so popularized right now it’s making headlines. It was a packed house at city hall during this discussion! This happened just before your posted Livefeed, making your timing for debate terrible. It is arguably one of the biggest issues facing this city currently. That said, city council, sitting on a 'B-' egg knows it needs to stress priorities, and particular to that. They are sensitive to the current glare of rental living hygiene, safety and crowding issues. A 'risk' as you stated, to add to the list would disinterest council. They are educated as a result of the rental issues, they know of too many current problems with health, safety and crowding unrelated to chickens. There is limited time; this city is moving fast, as well as their investing opportunities. I am happy to see the focus put elsewhere.

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By RightSaidFred (registered) | Posted December 13, 2012 at 13:10:38 in reply to Comment 83837

Amen to that. Very well said.

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By stuck (anonymous) | Posted December 13, 2012 at 11:41:31

Is it just me or has this been the season of suburban councillors sticking it to the downtown?

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 13, 2012 at 12:50:46 in reply to Comment 83831

the sprawl machine needs to keep downtown unliveable and downtrodden.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted December 17, 2012 at 22:13:07 in reply to Comment 83842

Shut up.

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By D. Shields (registered) | Posted December 15, 2012 at 13:31:47 in reply to Comment 83842

Detroit is doing this: http://www.hantzfarmsdetroit.com/ Urban farms on neglected brown fields that nobody wants to develop. (sound familiar?)

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By GMO Chicken (anonymous) | Posted December 13, 2012 at 12:19:35 in reply to Comment 83831

Had lower city pols Bratina, Morelli and Collins voted differently...

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted December 13, 2012 at 11:51:42 in reply to Comment 83831

"No, you can't govern your own wards - we don't live there, our constituents don't live there, we don't have to pay for it, but we're going to tell you how to live just because we can".

Any councillor who voted against Farr and McHattie hates democracy.

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By RightSaidFred (registered) | Posted December 13, 2012 at 13:18:43 in reply to Comment 83832

I'm sorry but your final sentence is one of the dumbest and most childish things I've heard. Further, if it were allowed we ALL would have to pay for the infrastructure to implement, maintain and police it. So please, state the facts here and not just your obvious passion for this debate.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted December 13, 2012 at 13:25:01 in reply to Comment 83848

I actually don't even care about chickens. I'm just peeved that even this kind of simple, localized, evidence-based pilot-project is being gunned down be the folks who are least affected by it. It's the perfect microcosm of our broken council.

It's two wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for dinner. Just because our system gives you the ability to meddle in the affairs of the other wards doesn't give you the right.

Comment edited by Pxtl on 2012-12-13 13:25:55

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By demalgamate (anonymous) | Posted December 13, 2012 at 12:24:31

The burbs have been screaming for years about the city overruling local opinion and now the urban core is doing likewise. Thats why amalgamation was doomed to fail from the start. It was a wrong headed attempt to grow the tax base to pay for downloaded services the city couldn\'t afford then and can\'t afford now. All of this let us run our own show plays well to the majority that never wanted to be a part of Hamilton in the first place

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By reuben (registered) - website | Posted December 13, 2012 at 14:18:05

Distances are recommended to be at least 3 metres from any side lot line and at least 6 metres from any rear lot line or dwelling

Don't complain about your neighbours being too close for this to work. This guideline alone would rule out many downtown properties (including my own) - many lots just aren't big enough to accommodate these setbacks.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 13, 2012 at 22:55:35 in reply to Comment 83852

Yea, I'd be unable to have any. And wasn't planning on getting any. But I think common sense says 'let's do the pilot' and then go from there. I'm annoyed once again at the lack of brainpower at city hall, and their love for making decisions based on everything BUT facts. It's the reason we still have dangerous, business-killing freeways downtown, no bike network connectivity, lousy transit and neighbourhoods through the central city that look identical to how they looked in 1985.

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By g (anonymous) | Posted December 14, 2012 at 02:06:37

i don't think we should allow back yard vegetable gardens either. think of the potential problems. rotting vegetables, noxious weeds, pests, vermin, toxic pesticides, dangerous machinery. if you allow people to grow tomatoes they will want to buy a tractor. next thing you know they will be running a combine at 6am on what was their front lawn. and think of the food safety issue. what if you grew a vegetable that wasnt cleaned properly and someone got sick? its time to ban gardening!

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By D. Shields (registered) | Posted December 15, 2012 at 13:03:43 in reply to Comment 83872

LOLS!!

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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted December 14, 2012 at 05:11:11

"What is it about so-called “urban chickens” that gets most of Hamilton city council so overwrought?

This week council slammed the door on the issue, at least for now, by refusing to consider a pitch from downtown councillors to do a pilot project in Wards 1 and 2. Mayor Bob Bratina voiced extreme displeasure at the idea, proclaiming “I don’t want this in our city.” Perhaps he’s forgetting our city includes many rural areas where chickens already live?

Maybe urban chickens aren’t the right thing for Hamilton. But the reality is there are still a fair number of chickens living here illegally, and in many cases not even the neighbours know. Why not allow a pilot project for a reasonable period, with adequate public consultation, in order to develop a more evidence-based position? It’s hard to see the harm in that."

http://www.thespec.com/opinion/editorial/article/853298--the-spectator-s-view-urban-chickens-getting-a-raw-deal

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By Neil (registered) | Posted December 14, 2012 at 09:26:38

Point of order here, how is it that this interesting and complex issue of governance and social regulation has become such a gong show? To the author: next time you are analyzing such issues I'd recommend curbing your desire to transplant grievances from other fora. This is not an urban-suburban issue. The vote was not urban-suburban. This is not about sprawl or two-way conversions. If it seems black and white to you maybe you haven't fully comprehended what the other side is saying, rather than simply putting it down to bias.

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By PearlStreet (registered) | Posted December 14, 2012 at 09:46:28 in reply to Comment 83888

Thank you Neil... Yes, a bit of a narrow preconception

Comment edited by PearlStreet on 2012-12-14 09:46:47

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By No Chickens in Hamilton (anonymous) | Posted December 14, 2012 at 12:01:00

Wildlife has no protection, domestic animals have no practical protection, chickens have no protection why make a mess by encouraging urban chickens?

Chickens should not be allowed because this is reality, not some ficticious world where everyone follows the rules and bylaws. Many animals die every year because people cannot be bothered to properly care for animals they own and the minimal standards for animal welfare make it nearly impossible to properly hold anyone to account for their abuse.
Other animals live miserable lives until they die because of these same conditions and same lack of enforcement or will to have proper safeguards for animals in Hamilton.

So why would anyone in good concience want to inflict this on yet another specieis?

I understand they suffer infactory farms but that is no reason to increase the pain with more animal misery in our city.

I have dealt with animal issues for years and can tell you much is never heard about the numerous horror stories in Hamilton regarding the treatment of animals.

Can you imagine animal control wasting time running around catching chickens?

Further, what about quality of the chickens used for meat rather than eggs? Again not everyone will follow rules and more problems will arise.

I would like to see more evidence or animal responsibility in Hamilton before any serious consideration of allowing chickens. So far I have not seen enough of it to consider supporting this initiative.

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By D. Shields (registered) | Posted December 15, 2012 at 13:23:13 in reply to Comment 83921

I agree with you to some extent, but much of the abuse seems to stem from poverty, ignorance, substance abuse, or if you like the same things that cause domestic violence & child abuse.(but we never connect these things as part of one problem) Not that you need to be poor to abuse your family, or animals. It happens across the whole of society.

I see the meat argument as something like the argument for & against unpasteurized milk, & cheese products, except that the dairy farmers who create those products 'may' know a lot more than somebody who 'just gets some chickens & finds that their lives as laying hens are over.'

If people are prepared to educate themselves about raising fowl Before they get into raising chickens, it can work. If they don't, it won't work. Hamilton has never been a place that seems interested in educating people about much of anything. It would rather just place a load of restrictions & by-law fines on them & leave things at that. It over reacts when a normal course of action would be preferable. Maybe this is why people are so upset about this?

Comment edited by D. Shields on 2012-12-15 13:27:06

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 15, 2012 at 09:54:04 in reply to Comment 83921

If everyone's eggs came from chickens raised by themselves or their neighbours, millions of chickens' lives would be saved.

So if you want to open that can of worms, you can have it all you want - because it is absolutely an argument FOR widespread small scale chicken coops.

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By Neil (registered) | Posted December 15, 2012 at 14:24:31 in reply to Comment 83966

no it isn't. Some chickens would have it better than factory farmed hens. Some chickens would have it worse, confined in basically as small spaces with greater exposure to the elements and more opportunities for neglect. Almost zero hens would have it as well as free run hens, because they would not have access to the required space.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 14, 2012 at 23:19:34 in reply to Comment 83921

but you don't understand. This wasn't about the chickens. It was a well-planned attempt to get cattle and barnyards into the downtown core.

I was soooooo looking forward to fresh milk everyday.

Comment edited by jason on 2012-12-14 23:20:02

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By D. Shields (registered) | Posted December 15, 2012 at 13:35:24 in reply to Comment 83957

Again: http://www.hantzfarmsdetroit.com/ Urban farming is becoming 'respectable' & viable.

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By Hamilton Is Chicken (anonymous) | Posted December 14, 2012 at 12:37:22 in reply to Comment 83921

Don't get your feathers in a ruffle, the faction represented by your fear mongering comment already won.

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By Margeret (anonymous) | Posted December 14, 2012 at 20:25:15

If a bicycle skids in chicken manure,and crashes into a chicken,who gets the carcass?And who gets the bike?

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 15, 2012 at 09:52:04 in reply to Comment 83955

These are important questions that must be asked before we make the risky move of considering allowing live chickens near our children.

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By D. Shields (registered) | Posted December 15, 2012 at 13:36:09 in reply to Comment 83965

Angry Birds?

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By birdsofafeather (anonymous) | Posted December 15, 2012 at 22:54:18

Bird flu? H1N1-style virus? etc. Surprised none have mentioned that yet ... Nothing against chickens or roosters per se, or any other tasty avian creatures, like doves, geese, ducks or quail. But raising fowl is not without certain risks & complications. There was also good reason why vicious & deadly 'cock-fighting' was banned in Hamilton not so very long ago. That said, why couldn't a co-op approach be taken? Then there will be the financial, physical & human resources to try to do it successfully. It don't really see this as a suburban-urban issue. It's really about the practicality of bird cages/yards & pens in a built-up environment and producing healthy birds for human consumption, eggs or meat. By the way, killing, plucking & cleaning a chicken is not for the faint of heart. And where, by the way, will the entrails & guts go? That beside the straw where our feathered friends poop. That stuff stinks. There's good reason why 'chicken shit' entered the lexicon ... All in all, in theory, sure, but in reality, some caution & expertise is required.

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By Leghorn (anonymous) | Posted January 07, 2013 at 08:50:59

http://bitchmagazine.org/article/co-opting-the-coop

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted January 07, 2013 at 09:24:20 in reply to Comment 84774

Maybe I'm just getting old and cranky, but I find I don't have much time any more for these teeth-gnashing, hipster-bashing articles by well-meaning progressives who are more interested in parsing small differences than celebrating the gradual mainstreaming of independent, small-scale, community-based initiatives.

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By Leghorn (anonymous) | Posted January 07, 2013 at 11:36:26 in reply to Comment 84775

I just skimmed it and thought it worth a link.

IMHO, found its more important take-away was that there any narrow appeal of the "phenomenon" belies the fact that this was/is in fact a long-running tradition -- and therefore neither as novel nor as threatening as supporters/detractors would have it.

But yes, on closer reading, seasoned with snark. Perhaps as a linkbait ploy (for which I have obviously fallen).

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By Leghorn (anonymous) | Posted January 07, 2013 at 11:41:09 in reply to Comment 84777

Similar old-is-new-again slant on rescuing our practical heritage:

http://www.vintage-books.co.uk/blog/from-the-author/suckingeggs

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