A B.C. provincial court judge has ruled that it’s not illegal for a Vancouver resident to keep guinea-fowl hens as pets because the city’s bylaw is a badly written piece of “bland prose” that never specifically listed them as prohibited.
Judicial Justice Zahid Makhdoom, in an idiosyncratic decision late last month on various aspects of the guinea fowl-human connection throughout history, concluded there was no evidence that Arielle Reid’s two hens had any kind of deleterious effect on Vancouver’s civic life.
In his brief written decision, he also mentioned Greek myths surrounding guinea fowl, the long-standing tradition of humans seeking companionship with animals, a trip he made to Lake Titicaca in Peru, and the way the city puts up with dogs that defecate and bark.
The judge noted that, although the bylaw prohibits people from keeping “pheasants, quail or other poultry or fowl” on city properties, there is also another section that says people are allowed to have up to 12 registered homing pigeons, canaries, budgerigars, parrots, parakeets and exotic birds of all species.
Guinea fowls “have been domesticated in various parts of the world to help protect crops,” he wrote. “Guinea fowls love eating ticks, scare away predators like foxes and snakes. Farmers love them for that. They perch high and have a tendency to range at greater distances than, say chickens.”
Justice Makhdoom also noted that: “Domestication of animals lay at the confluence of human and animal existence. Rearing or raising gallinaceous bird variety of guinea fowls does not prove their ‘domestication,’ which is an evolutionary process involving an animal’s historic connection with humans.”
Besides his observations on the biology and behaviour of guinea fowl, Justice Makhdoom noted that Ms. Reid was raised in Jamaica, a country with a tradition of keeping animals like that at people’s homes. He also derided Vancouver’s bylaw for regulating animals in the city.
“The bylaw is a model of bland prose bereft of nuance, or concealing within its complex idiomatic layers multiple corollaries or meanings,” he wrote. Guinea fowl are not specifically listed in any section of the bylaw.
Ms. Reid had believed she was complying with the bylaw under the provision that allows up to 12 exotic birds. The judge agreed with her and dismissed the city’s charge, saying Ms. Reid “did not keep these birds as poultry either for eggs or meat but kept them for pure joy of companionship.”
The city originally was alerted to the hens when there were two noise complaints, including one from the local residents’ association, according to Ms. Reid. The case has been winding its way through the city and the court system since then. If she had lost, Ms. Reid, who represented herself in the appeal, would have had to pay a $250 fine.
In the meantime, Ms. Reid had the hens moved to a farm near Pemberton, B.C., in case the city tried to confiscate them. They’ll be staying there.
“They’ve been there for a year. They’re bonded to their new person,” she said. She has since acquired regular chickens, which are allowed.
Ms. Reid said she’s disappointed in how her neighbours behaved, reporting her to the city instead of talking to her directly, if they were bothered.
“We need to get back to a place where neighbours talk to each other and don’t fall back on the crude tools of institutions,” she said. “Not only did the institutional route fail, it cost a lot of money.”
She also said the city should develop a better process, including mediation, instead of just proceeding to bylaw fines.
“My hope is that this gets the city to think about the way it does enforcement.”
She’s relieved the legal system supported her and everyone who is in a similar situation.
“It was an important decision.”
Justice Makhdoom is a former social-justice activist from Pakistan who was appointed to the bench in 1996.