Friday, August 12, 2011

Administrative Chicken Zealots

Canada long ago established that it was a good idea to stay out of the nation's bedrooms, and since Prime Minister Trudeau uttered his now-famous quote, there are few people left who still hanker for a country that prosecutes abortion and gay marriage.

On the other hand, when it comes to municipal politics, officials can be rather overzealous in applying the letter of the law.  Especially when it comes to chickens, for some reason that is beyond me.

This is what Amherstburg's Lock family discovered this week, when they were told to remove their pet chickens from their property after an anonymous neighbour lodged a complaint to the authorities.  The story is a little more complex than normal, because they had enquired at city hall as to the legality of owning their pets before acquiring their coop, but had not been able to get a clear answer.

We all know that bylaw enforcement departments generally have their hands full dealing with complaints about poorly maintained properties and badly treated dogs and cats.  So it is somewhat eyebrow-raising to see that Amherstburg's officials have the resources to pursue a complaint like this so efficiently.  It mirrors a similar incident in Windsor last year, when it took just 48 hours for officials to pay a visit to a local chicken owner, ironically in the very same week that the department reported to City Council that they were so understaffed that it took more than 2 weeks to deal with each complaint that was lodged.

In Windsor, our councillors already established their unwillingness earlier this year to allocate already scarce financial resources to studying the pros and cons of backyard hens, in spite of a recommendation put forward by the administration.

In an era of austerity and stretched municipal purses, doesn't it make more sense to apply Trudeau's principle to neighbours snitching about illicit backyard coops?

By all means send an officer over if inconsiderate residents acquire noisy roosters, or plonk an unsightly coop on or near the lot line.  But if someone has a largish yard and doesn't cause any discernible hindrance to their neighbours, does it really matter that much if they own a hen or two to produce their own free range eggs?

If a city is unwilling to commit any resources to conducting an objective public discussion, it is far more pragmatic to investigate only genuine complaints that are nuisance-driven.

Just as good parenting requires some discretion and judgement when it comes to dealing with tattle-tales, I wish the authorities of Essex County would think twice before laying down the letter of the law when there are many more serious issues to worry about.

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Please keep the Windsor urban chicken discussion going! We love to 'read your constructive comments.