“Everybody has a hobby, right? Some have cats, some have dogs. I have pigeons.”
Kulwant 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, without ruffling any feathers.
But that changed three years ago when he bought a new house in Lynn Valley. Within a few weeks, his next door neighbour began complaining about the birds.
“In my other house in North Vancouver, everyone loved pigeons. They were flying around no problem. My second, third week I moved in, she started complaining,” he said.
On Monday evening, North Vancouver District council formally approved a new bylaw that would make it illegal to own pigeons, repealing a 1971 law allowing them.
The discussion was brief, but council discussed the motion in detail the week before.
There, staff told them they could only find one person in the district who had pigeons and only one person who had recently filed a complaint. It was proposed the new law wouldn’t come into effect until May 2020 to allow a transition period.
The vote both weeks passed 4-2. Councillor Betty Forbes recused herself.
“I have been involved in a situation like this,” she told council before one of the discussions.
That wasn’t exactly accurate. Because, while it was never said in that meeting, Forbes was the next door neighbour who complained.
“I’ve spent lots of money fixing my backyard. I try and keep it as prim and proper as I can. I invest in it every year. And now I get to sit on the back deck and entertain and look at a pigeon coop.”
In May 2017, the district held a public hearing for a proposed bylaw allowing backyard chicken coops. Betty Forbes, then just a member of the public, made her first appearance in front of council.
She wanted to talk about “a situation” that had arisen.
“A new neighbour moved in,” said Forbes. The coop was “ramshackle” and “an eyesore.” And, she warned, it would harm the value of her property.
“I know it sounds pretty cold,” she told council, “but there is an impact to having coops in backyards to properties next door to that. I’ve spoken with a couple of real estate agents, and they’ve told me it will definitely have an effect.”
Council passed the chicken coop bylaw.
Over the next year, Forbes sent a number of letters and phone calls to district staff about Dulay’s pigeons. She also sent a letter to then-mayor Richard Walton, saying that Dulay “allows his pigeons to fly and perch on neighbours properties without any control or supervision.”
In the summer of 2018, staff investigated and took away six of Dulay’s pigeons. A total of 15 remain, trained to fly back and forth from their large coop in Dulay’s backyard, a few feet from the fence surrounding his and Forbes’ homes.
Dulay says he applied for a permit from the district but never got one. He also claims he’s worked to be a good neighbour after Forbes’ complaint, but Forbes hasn’t spoken to him since.
“My neighbourhood is nice … only one person complains,” he said.
Meanwhile, Forbes started attending council more often, ran for office herself and was elected on Oct. 20 last year.
That’s the point where her situation with Dulay and his pigeons goes from a feud between neighbours to the political arena — and puts Forbes’ communications with district staff and councillors under the microscope.
Conflict of interest rules
In July 2019, Coun. Lisa Muri brought forward a motion that asked staff to explore changing the district’s decade-old pigeon bylaw, beginning the process that ended on Monday evening.
“This is a very old archaic bylaw,” she said.
“Why do we need to allow homing pigeons to be released? I am not allowed to release my dogs. They have to be leashed … so, I would ask why would we allow pigeons?”
Forbes also recused herself from that discussion, as mandated under the conflict of interest section in B.C.’s Community Charter.
It states that a councillor with a “direct or indirect pecuniary interest in a matter” must not “attempt in any way, whether before, during or after such a meeting, to influence the voting on any question,” and that they must not “attempt to influence in any way a decision, recommendation or other action to be made or taken … by an officer or an employee of the municipality.”
FOI documents show communication
According to Freedom of Information documents provided to CBC News, after Forbes was elected — but before she was officially sworn in — she sent an email to the city’s chief planning and permitting officer, complaining about the situation and asking for action.
“The discussion and explanations for how this situation has been handled in the last 1 1/2 years were not reasonable nor acceptable,” she wrote.
And from April to June, Muri and Forbes had three email discussions where the subject line read “Pigeons,” “Repeal of the pigeon bylaw” and “Keeping of Pigeons Bylaw.”
CBC News asked Forbes questions about her letter to staff after the election, and her emails with Coun. Muri, but she did not respond. CBC News also asked Muri about the bylaw and her emails to Forbes, and she declined comment.
Mathew Bond was one of two councillors who voted against the initial motion last week. He says the bylaw isn’t an appropriate use of the district’s time.
“We’re in the middle of a regional housing crisis and I’m not sure how the pigeon bylaw got to the top of the agenda,” he said.
“Generally, if there’s one complaint, that’s what our bylaws are for and that’s why we have bylaw enforcement.”
Dulay is still hopeful he’ll be able to keep his pigeons. And wonders why things went so wrong between him and the councillor.
“She has two dogs, I never complain,” he said.
“Even though they’re always barking.”
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