'It's not just about our pigeons': Backlash to bird ban in North Vancouver grows

On Givo Hassko's Maple Ridge property, there are Indian fantails, Budapest short-faced tumblers, and any other number of trained pigeons that he's either bought, bred or fostered over the years. 

A director for the Vancouver Poultry & Fancy Pigeon Association, Hassko estimates there are around 300 pigeon owners across the Lower Mainland. He says he's heard from many of them, outraged by the District of North Vancouver's recent ban on the birds.

"It does not seem in any way correct how they're going by it," he said.

Prior to council passing the bylaw, staff said the only active complaint file the district had was from newly elected councillor Betty Forbes — and the only person they could identify who had pigeons was her next-door neighbour.

Forbes recused herself from the vote and discussion, but Hassko says members of the pigeon community are worried it will set a precedent in other communities where the birds are currently allowed. 

"It's not just about our pigeons anymore," he said.

"It's more about what your neighbour next door can to do to you if they don't feel like you belong in that little area."

Maggie MacPherson/CBC

Pigeons allowed in most of Metro Van

Before the vote, District of North Vancouver staff admitted they hadn't done extensive research on pigeon rules throughout Metro Vancouver.

But a CBC News analysis of regional animal control bylaws found only two other municipalities explicitly banning poultry, with only the District of North Vancouver explicitly signalling out pigeons.

Several other communities, including Vancouver, Richmond and Surrey have specific rules around how many pigeons a person could have, or how they need to be cared for. 

Hassko said the district's previous rules allowing pigeons, enacted in 1971, "was one of the best bylaws in the Lower Mainland," and that a ban usually only incentivizes people to keep pigeons secretly, free of regulation. 

He also believes the district had several alternatives to resolve the dispute without resorting to a ban.

"They could have easily picked up a phone and emailed and said 'hey, can you help us with this bylaw and this situation?'" he said.     

Maggie MacPherson/CBC

Could a do-over happen? 

Forbes recused herself from the vote because of a conflict of interest. Before being elected, she had made several complaints to staff about the pigeons and said they had damaged her lawn, and in 2017 spoke at a public hearing and said they could impact her property values.

But 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 with the councillor who put forward the pigeon ban motion about the situation. 

The new information has prompted the two councillors who voted against the ban to ask for a reconsideration — which would require a request from either Mike Little or one of the three councillors who voted in favour of it.   

"There was clearly some background information we didn't know," said Jordan Back.  

"I'd like to have a better understanding as to why [Forbes] thought it was OK to use her position to bring forward a personal matter. I don't think it's appropriate, and I think we've heard widespread feedback from the community that they don't think it's appropriate."

Forbes has ultimately declined multiple requests for an interview by CBC News, but through a spokesperson indicated she would make a statement at Monday's council meeting and speak to the media afterwards. 

As for Hassko? He says he'll also be at Monday's meeting, with a clear message for the district. 

"Something does smell fowl here, and it's not the pigeons."