Councillor calls for conflict-of-interest training after pigeon ban that affects only her neighbour

The District of North Vancouver councillor who filed the only complaint about pigeons that led to a district-wide ban on owning the birds says council should receive more training around conflict-of-interest rules. 

Betty Forbes made the request to district staff and the mayor's office on Monday night, at the end of her first statement on a controversy over how the district came to pass a bylaw banning pigeons.

"If we could arrange that, I think there's still a gap," said Forbes about the training for councillors. 

Forbes had recused herself from all votes and public discussions on a bylaw to prohibit owning pigeons in the district, overturning a 48-year policy allowing them.

Before being elected, she had made several complaints to staff about pigeons on the property next door to her home and said they had damaged her lawn. In 2017 she spoke at a public hearing and said the birds could harm her property's value.

According to Freedom of Information documents, after Forbes was elected — but before she was officially sworn in — she sent an email to city staff complaining about the situation and asking for action. In recent months she also exchanged emails about the situation with the councillor who put forward the pigeon-ban motion. 

"I have followed the advice given to me by staff and by independent legal advice on this matter," she said.

In her address to council Monday, Forbes said she believed she followed all the rules. 

"If I have erred in any way, I assure council and the community that it was done inadvertently and in good faith with my understanding, as a new councillor, of conflict-of-interest rules." 

Forbes, who had previously said she would speak to CBC News about the issue, declined an interview following the meeting. 

Harman/CBC News

No reconsideration forthcoming 

Monday's meeting was the first time for the public to speak to councillors on the matter since the bylaw was passed.

Several people said they supported the prohibition, focusing on the negative healthy impacts freely roaming pigeons could have on the community, with one person saying they had verbally spoken with district staff about pigeons causing damage at a nearby strata. 

But most people who spoke asked council to reconsider the ban, including members of the broader pigeon-owning community, and a person who said they lived across the street from both Forbes and Kulwant Dulay, the pigeon owner. 

"It's just ridiculous ... I believe in working things out as neighbours, and I'm here to support [Dulay]," said Krista Page, who said she never had a problem with his pigeons. 

"I'm a bird lover, a bird watcher, and they're well taken care of."

Prior to the meeting, councillors Jordan Back and Mathew Bond had called on the officials who approved the ban — Mayor Mike Little and councillors Megan Curren, Jim Hanson and Lisa Muri — to ask for a reconsideration. 

None did, and Hanson said he had heard from enough people who supported the ban that he was comfortable with his decision. 

"The majority of our population don't want pigeons. They'd perceived pigeons as causing public health issues and nuisance issues," he said. 

However, he acknowledged that things could have been communicated differently.  

"The outcome is one which our community can support, and does support," he said.

"Obviously, we could have improved the process, because the very fact that the public have the concerns that they have would indicate the process wasn't as transparent as it ought to have been."