Rooster bylaw causing a cock-a-doodle-doo on Malcolm Island

·3 min read

Strawberry wasn’t planned for, exactly. He was what loving parents might describe as a surprise. But when the chick, who hatched near the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic this year, started growing tail feathers and an attitude, he was already part of the Cuyler family.

Sam Cuyler’s daughters Cozy, 8, and Oaklynn, 5, named the rooster Strawberry and raised him like a pet in their Sointula home.

“He lived on our porch because he didn’t think he was a rooster,” Cuyler said.

And then suddenly, Cuyler got a notice from the regional district’s bylaw office telling her Strawberry and Heyhey, their other rooster, were illegal and had to be removed.

Cuyler looked around. Neighbours on all sides have roosters. She and her husband Albert grew up in Sointula, and both had roosters all their lives. She was baffled to learn of a bylaw that prohibits roosters.

In fact, bylaw 725, 2006 4.11 does state that “No roosters, cocks or cockerels are permitted” on land zoned as small lot residential. Most of the lots in Sointula around Rough Bay are designated as such.

The bylaw was added in 2017 after discussions with the Malcolm Island Advisory Commission and public hearings. But this bylaw wasn’t about restricting roosters, it was actually about allowing chickens. Before 2017, all farm animals were technically illegal in those residential zones — something most residents easily ignored or never knew.

Regional District of Mount Waddington’s (RDMW) chief bylaw enforcement officer Jeff Long said the decision to exclude roosters from the chicken act (formally the Urban Hens bylaw) was made to be in keeping with a general clause that you can’t undertake activities that are nuisance to other people. In an urban environment, rooster wake-up calls in the wee hours could be considered a nuisance.

READ MORE: ‘Crying fowl’: BC SPCA calls on hobby farmers to stop abandoning chickens

Why weren’t Cuyler’s neighbours being told their roosters were illegal, too?

Because no one was complaining. It seemed Strawberry and Heyhey had been singled out by a neighbour, who Cuyler says called the bylaw officer “incessantly” to the point where he came all the way to the Island to “find the culprits.”

Cozy and Oaklynn weren’t having it. The sisters masked up and started banging on doors to collect signatures for a petition to rescind the so-called rooster bylaw.

By late November they handed in 170 signatures to their local RDMW representative, Sandra Daniels, who will take up the issue with the Malcolm Island Advisory Commission. If the group agrees to recommend a change, the RDMW board will then consider it. If the board approves, a public hearing process would kick off before a binding decision could be made. All of that would take months.

On Dec. 10, Cuyler received a letter from the RDMW bylaw office saying she had until Dec. 18 to remove the roosters or face a fine of $100. A second offence would be $250, and if she persisted in keeping Strawberry and Heyhey in violation of the bylaw, she would be fined $500 every day thereafter.

So for now the roosters have been moved to a new home elsewhere on the Island where zoning allows for farm animals, including cock-a-doodling roosters.

Do you have something to add to this story or something else we should report on? Email: zoe.ducklow@blackpress.ca

Zoë Ducklow, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, North Island Gazette