A Town Council That’s For the Birds

The District of North Vancouver (DNV) is nestled against the mountains that are the backdrop of the Lower Mainland. It is a town that faces some significant problems, including massive traffic jams, a severe lack of affordable housing, and the hopeless task of trying to figure out how to deal with the climate emergency without actually doing anything.

In the face of these challenges the DNV council has done what no other government in the region has dared to do: they have outlawed the keeping of pigeons in the District. Or, more specifically, they voted to prohibit the keeping of pigeons by one resident.

Even that wouldn’t have particularly bothered me, except that the homeowner in question, Kulwant Dulay, happens to live next to the sole person complaining to the District about his pigeons — District council member Betty Forbes.

CBC News reports that Dulay says he’s lived in the District of North Vancouver for 25 years and, for most of them, he’s kept homing pigeons on his property in a coop in the backyard. Only when he moved in next to Forbes three years ago did this become a problem.

Forbes tried to make this an issue with the previous council. When that failed she ran for office as part of an anti-development slate. She was elected and even before the first official council meeting was lobbying District staff to shut down her neighbour’s pigeons. Finally this month she orchestrated a new bylaw to outlaw the pets — one that applies to only one person in the District: Kulwant Dulay.

Actually Forbes was silent when the bylaw was presented, debated, and voted on at council. She recused herself without explaining specifically why she was doing so. It seems that only when CBC News filed an Freedom of Information request did the truth emerge. There’s now a suggestion that Forbes was in a clear conflict of interest, although she claims that despite workshops on the subject for the new council members she knew nothing about that.

The biggest concern with this story has to be the way that the District and Forbes very explicitly didn’t name her as the complainant, or discuss why a new bylaw was needed to deal with her complaint. This seems to be quite at odds with Forbes’ campaign promise of transparency and accountability.

The council members that voted in favour of the ban are now trying very hard to present a plausible case for outlawing these specific birds. The first claim is that pigeons carry disease. This is true, but the same can be said of any animal in the District, whether a family pet or the bears, cougars, or deer that wander through our backyards.

The more persuasive claim that is being made is that allowing homeowners to keep pigeons will lower property values. It seems unlikely that there is any way to prove that claim, but it’s an argument that never fails to win over voters in this town.

The lesson that I’ve learned from this saga is a simple one: if you’re mad at your neighbour don’t waste thousands of dollars on a lawyer. Instead just run for office on a populist agenda, get elected, then pass a bylaw to punish them.

North Vancouver based writer. Seeking: honest politicians; justice and honour; intelligence and humour; corporate integrity. Planning to move to France.

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