Councillors Reject Backyard Hen Reform
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Councillors Reject Backyard Hen Reform

The licensing and standards committee voted unanimously against asking staff to study the impact of legalizing urban chicken coops.

Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby, who sits on the licensing and standards committee, holding a stuffed hen at the end of today's chicken debate.

At a meeting of the licensing and standards committee earlier today, councillors refused to back a recommendation that would have directed City staff to study the possibility of allowing Torontonians to keep hens in their backyards. In doing so, they put the push to legalize urban chicken coops—currently, they aren’t permitted by local bylaws—on indefinite hold.

The unanimous vote to defer the study followed hours of debate from concerned councillors, the Animal Alliance, and residents in favour of backyard hens.

Liz White, from the Animal Alliance, said the the committee had made the right decision.

“There would be impacts on Toronto Animal Services,” she said. “That’s what the committee made loud and clear with the unanimous vote.” Her group is concerned about the possibility that hens would be mistreated inadvertently by inexpert owners.

Lorraine Johnson, author of City Farmer: Adventures in Urban Food Growing, was stunned by the decision.

“I’m disappointed the city was not open to a debate,” she said. She added that there are many common misconceptions about hens (that they’re noisy, as an example) and that a study by City staff could have addressed those myths.

“Every major US city allows backyard chickens,” she said.

Councillor Joe Mihevc (Ward 21, St. Paul’s), who first broached the possibility of a hen study with a member motion at December’s city council meeting, spoke of the need for better food education. “We need to put in systems where we know how food is produced—and not in a ‘romantic’ way,” he said, adding that “the more we alienate kids from this type of education and animal husbandry, the more violence and bad treatment of animals that will occur.”