Nova Scotia: Supreme Court on chickens as livestock

Discussion in 'Local Chicken Laws & Ordinances' started by LynneP, Oct 23, 2008.

  1. LynneP

    LynneP Chillin' With My Peeps

    Court: Pet chickens are fowl
    But family allowed to keep fine-feathered Fanny until they fly the HRM coop to Boston
    By JENNIFER STEWART Court Reporter
    Thu. Oct 23 - 5:13 AM

    [Jane Napier Parker and her husband Trevor Smedley hold their pet chicken Fanny at their Stillwater Lake home on Wednesday. A Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge has upheld a lower court decision that the family’s pet chickens were livestock and being kept illegally on the residential property. (DARREN PITTMAN / Staff)</p>]

    Jane Napier Parker and her husband Trevor Smedley hold their pet chicken Fanny at their Stillwater Lake home on Wednesday. A Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge has upheld a lower court decision that the family’s pet chickens were livestock and being kept illegally on the residential property. (DARREN PITTMAN / Staff)

    Fanny fluffed up her feathers and made a soft cooing noise as she settled in Wednesday to enjoy her last few hours as a legal resident of her owners’ quiet Stillwater Lake neighbourhood.

    The two-year-old heritage chicken, a much-adored pet of Trevor Smedley, his wife and their three young children, pecked her way into the hearts of many in Halifax Regional Municipality when the provincial court ruled earlier this year that her owners were violating the city’s land-use bylaws by keeping her in a coop outside their sprawling two-storey home.

    A Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge upheld that decision Wednesday, but don’t ship the chicken off to the farm just yet.

    In a move that shows the paper-pushers might just have a heart, municipal Crown attorney Joshua Judah told the court that the city won’t force Mr. Smedley and his family to get rid of their pet chicken since they are moving to Boston next summer.

    "We’re happy that we’re going to be able to keep our chickens," Mr. Smedley told reporters outside the courtroom.

    In March, Judge Jamie Campbell convicted Mr. Smedley of using an accessory-use building to house livestock. A second charge of keeping chickens was stayed.

    The third-year law student, who represented himself in the case, promptly appealed the decision.

    He was originally fined $500 and told that Fanny had to fly the coop by May 30.

    Although he disagreed with the conviction, Mr. Smedley said it was the idea of the city "micromanaging" his life that really cooked his goose.

    "Like a lot of people, I don’t like the city messing with what people do on their own property when they’re not bothering other people," he said.

    Although Chief Justice Joseph Kennedy agreed with the trial judge that it’s illegal to keep chickens in a coop on residential property, Mr. Smedley said the more important question of whether residents can keep chickens at all still looms.

    "I still think the law, where I live, doesn’t say that I can’t have pet chickens. I guess someone else will have to take up that fight and if they want to, I’d certainly be happy to help them."

    At the appeal last month, Mr. Smedley argued that the 13 chickens and one rooster his family originally housed in a coop on their one-hectare property were clearly pets and not kept for agricultural use.

    Chief Justice Kennedy clearly disapproved of the "busybody" who first called in to complain about the family’s rooster but said the legislation is clear in this case — these birds are fowl and therefore have an agricultural purpose.

    "Clearly the trial judge did not want to convict," Chief Justice Kennedy said. "He did not want to take those chickens from those kids, but he was right."

    Mr. Judah admitted it’s unfortunate Mr. Smedley has to give up the family pets but said he should have checked with the city first.

    "In the same way that I wouldn’t want my cats taken away from my three-year-old, I checked with my landlord before I moved in, and people should check with the city before they decide to use their land for particular purposes."

    But Mr. Smedley insists he and his wife did their homework.

    "We looked into it. We tried to figure out if there were any restrictions and we couldn’t find anything."

    This is not the first time the municipality has forced a resident to give up pet chickens.

    In February, Louise Hanavan moved three hens out of her Edinburgh Street backyard in Halifax to a Hants County farm rather than risk prosecution.
  2. La Banan

    La Banan Chillin' With My Peeps

    May 28, 2008
    Hi all,
    I live in this same municipality but in a different area. Although if you went to our two neighborhoods you would find no difference really. The difference is in the zoning. I called the office - used a fake name initially through some paranoia and then realized the zoning folks don't give a poop if we have chickens - they just have to implement the RIDICULOUS zoning bylaws if someone (like a bugged neighbour) complains. I am allowed chickens by any name where I live as long as I don't have more than fifty. In other words for my own consumption etc...

    Smedley put up the good fight but he used the wrong end of the stick. I know he was trying to get them through on a technicality by calling them pets - they weren't buying nor should they. We need to fight this a different way I think - by convincing those who can bring this to our different municipalities to see that ESPECIALLY in these times of economic hardships we need to be allowed small animal husbandry in areas that are suited INCLUDING the city where there is enough space. We should be encouraged to grow our own gardens and even small crops, keep family flocks, a milking goat etc... The noise factor just doesn't wash when we look at the things that are allowed to ruin our peace and quiet in the country - including off-road recreational vehicles that ruin the land, the peace and use up non-renewable resources. As for the complaint that Louise suffered from - chicken feed will encourage rats - that is so patently ridiculous that I can't believe it washes at all! This in a harbour city that is full of rats - when I lived there I would have loved someone to encourage the rats out of my apartment and into their backyard!

    What a weird messed up world.

    Jan la banan
  3. eggzettera

    eggzettera Chillin' With My Peeps

    WOW sorry to hear that, maybe he should try making money with them like LCRT maybe if his chickens were paying taxes the government would see them more favorably.....
  4. CHICKEN little 1

    CHICKEN little 1 Chillin' With My Peeps

    Aug 20, 2008
    I'am so confused about all this. Isn't there a law that says you can't shoot a dog,etc. that is killing your chickens,because they are not livestock.

    Then the law say's you can't have chickens in town,or certain other areas. They are considered livestock.


    Somebody please tell me!!!!!!!! [​IMG]
  5. spatcher

    spatcher Chillin' With My Peeps

    Apr 13, 2008
    Virginia - Southside
    Canadian law is so confusing eh?
  6. SewingDiva

    SewingDiva Chillin' With My Peeps

    Unfortunately once they move to Boston they will discover they can't have chickens there either.
  7. TrevorS

    TrevorS New Egg

    Oct 24, 2008
    So I'm the guy in that article [​IMG]

    One thing that is important to point out is that the judge *didn't* decide that you can't keep chickens as pets where I live. Because of a technicality, he only decided that we can't keep them in an accessory building (i.e. a chicken coop). Given that we're leaving in less than a year, the city decided to stop fighting and let us keep them until we leave.

    The result is that it is still undecided in Halifax if you can keep chickens as pets in a residential zone. Actually, it's more complicated than that, because Halifax has 21 different sets of land-use by-laws, depending on the area you live in.

    I still think that, where I live, the by-law does not say that I can't keep chickens as pets in a residential zone, and I think if the court had answered that question on Wednesday, it would have been in my favour. One thing that didn't come out in the newspaper articles was that the judge, Chief Justice Kennedy of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia, in court, on record, called the person who complained about our chickens a "busybody." That's priceless.

    Regarding chickens in Boston, it must depend on which community you live in. We are looking at west of the city, just outside the 495, around Littleton, Harvard, Bolton etc. We have looked at the by-laws there, and they seem very sensible, basing what you are allowed to do on the size of your land. Also, Massachusetts state law includes a protection of your 'right to farm' when you have five acres of land or more (so we're hoping to get 5+ acres).

    Thanks to everyone for your support -- it's amazing and encouraging how much attention this issue is getting, and almost all of it positive. I spent almost all day on Wednesday either in court, or doing media interviews -- and calls are still coming in for more.
  8. chantecler

    chantecler Chillin' With My Peeps

    Aug 25, 2008
    Moncton New Brunswick
    Thanks for putting up a good fight!!
    I always fear that one day thet will try and rezone where I live.....
    Sorry to hear it didn't work out [​IMG]

    ... freekin busybodies!!!..... [​IMG]
  9. JaneP

    JaneP New Egg

    Oct 24, 2008
    I'm the wife in the story, and Lynne, I agree that the laws have to be changed to allow small agricultural practice. It's just that we would have had to give up our birds outright, and then try to get by-laws changed for our zoning. It would be years before anything would change, if ever. Our only hope of keeping our birds was to compare them with other kinds of pets that no one objects to, and point out the species of bird shouldn't matter.

    We really do treat these birds as pets, and do not cull them when they stop laying. Eventually we'll have a flock of elderly hens, and we'll be buying eggs from the grocery store again, but that is the way we and the children were enjoying them.

    I would have preferred to wave a banner, march down the street, and declare, with a crowd of supporters, that small animal husbandry ought to be encouraged and these archaic and ridiculous laws should be changed. But people with chickens are in hiding, and will not risk exposure so they lose their birds too. There is no crowd of public supporters, just a lot of kind but sometimes furtive calls of support ("don't use my name!"). And it would not have prevented us from losing our birds.

    We were hoping, that by finding the crack in the by-law, to force the city to deal with the issue, and that would give everyone the opportunity to come forward and fight the good fight for all. Unfortunately the status quo still holds it's own. Someone else will have to take up the banner for agricultural expression, now. I hope our fight at least renewed the cause for reform of the by-laws. I'm happy we can keep our birds until we leave, but sad that we couldn't do more to make change happen.
  10. LynneP

    LynneP Chillin' With My Peeps

    Trevor and Jane,

    Thank you for fighting the good fight, and I'm so sorry you're moving away. You've brought the ridiculous side of the HRM bylaws into the forefront and we need to do this. So many poultry owners have to remain silent, fearing they will lose their birds. I know of several who have large plots of land and a few hens but they dare not speak out.

    I know the HRM Council is leery of being accused of wasting time on cat bylaws and the like, but they need to turn over the situation to city staff to allow folks to be self-sustained. As Jan has said, a few hens, a milking goat...

    I'm in Centre Rawdon, Hants County and my farm is 'Resource-Agricultural' but I know of others who bought land zoned this way and if they stop using it for a few animals they lose the designation. Despite all kinds of municipal and provincial efforts we continue to lose agricultural land and the right to support ourselves with a few eggs and small livestock. Oddly too, where I live horses and chickens are not livestock because historically when folks DID keep a horse for transport and a few chickens for eggs they were exempted from other agricultural designations.

    I don't plan to cull either expect for terminal illness, and when the girls get older I'll begin a newer, 'closed flock' and hubby and I will create a second coop space and roofed run. We have a lot of predators. Our girls are friendly, I've had them since they were less than 12 hours old.

    I'm sure you're both experts on your municipal law by now. Once again many thanks. Are you taking your remaining hen with you or will she go with the ones you once had?
    Last edited: Oct 24, 2008

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