A new pigeon prohibition in a North Vancouver community has roused suspicions that a councillor’s continued grudge against the birds has led to a serious conflict of interest.
Thursday, in response to concerns from the public, district Mayor Mike Little ordered an independent investigation into the events leading up to and the passage the controversial ban known as the “Pigeon Prohibition Bylaw.” It bans residents from harbouring what some consider intelligent animals (who mate for life!), and others believe are rats with wings.
The chief administrative officer will look into the conduct of all councillors, including Little.
The pigeon squabble started almost three years ago, when Kulwant Dulay and his multi-generational family moved to the north shore neighbourhood and transformed a dilapidated backyard chicken coop into a charming miniature cottage for his homing pigeons.
“I fixed it up. I wash the coop every week. I keep it clean. There’s no smells at all,” Dulay told councillors Nov. 18. He and his family wash the pigeons and clean up their droppings.
His neighbour, councillor Betty Forbes, saw the situation differently. She declined to comment, as the independent review is being conduct and therefore would not be “appropriate.”
In emails to staff, released through a freedom of information request and first provided to CBC News, Forbes complained of her neighbour’s pigeons flying over her house and landing on her roof, and requested staff review a bylaw from 1971 to “control” the look of the coups, and limit the number allowed.
“Both chickens and pigeons can carry disease and are dirty,” Forbes wrote to staff in May 2017, before she was councillor. “How can you control health risks, monitor that the chickens or pigeons are being kept in approved coups, under humane living conditions, food is stored so as not to attract other animals, the number of kept birds is within the by-law?”
Forbes was elected Oct. 20, 2018. Five days later she requested staff act on her “pigeon complaint.”
“I have been patient but I feel that 1.5 years of asking for this issue to be dealt with in accordance with the bylaw is long enough,” Forbes said in her email.
Earlier this year, she had at least three conversations with fellow Councillor Lisa Muri regarding pigeons, according to emails. In July, she asked Muri to pass a bylaw to outlaw them, according to an email obtained by CBC.
“I have a pool that pigeons fly over and poop as well as flying and roosting on the rest of my property,” she wrote July 6. A few days later, Muri requested staff ban pigeons from the district.
Staff would later tell council they knew of only one person in the district who had pigeons, Dulay, and only one person had filed a recent complaint, Forbes.
That didn’t stop council voting 4-2 for the ban in November. Forbes recused herself, declaring a conflict of interest, but she still might’ve breached B.C.’s Community Charter that prohibits councillors from influencing council votes, recommendations or decisions.
At a Nov. 2018 council meeting, Forbes made her first public statement regarding the controversy.
“It has always been my intention to act with integrity in the best interest of the district both as a private citizen and as a councillor,” she said. “If I have erred in anyway, I assure council and the community that it was done inadvertently and in good faith with my understanding, as a new councillor, of the conflict of interest rules.”
“We feel this is a corrupt way of passing bylaws.”
She called for more conflict of interest training for councillors.
Droves of concerned citizens also spoke.
“I am passionate about transparency and trying to work things out as neighbours,” said Dulay’s neighbour Krista Page, who came out in support of the family. “I just feel this is very much a misuse of power.”
Givo Hasko has been breeding, showing and rescuing pigeons for a decade. He told council “We are here for a love of pigeons. We feel this is a corrupt way of passing bylaws.”
Others were concerned about pigeons causing damage with their frequent acidic poops, and the possibility they could spread disease. Corrie Kost said his parents final years in their lake-side apartment would’ve been more pleasant if it weren’t for the pigeons pestering them.
The pigeon prohibition will come into effect May 2020.
Update: This story has been updated to include Betty Forbes’s response.