An intrepid urban chicken fan has taken on more than Calgary’s city hall. He has taken on Canada’s commitment to the right to food.
Paul Hughes is a veteran and single father who lives on a disability pension. He sees raising chickens as a constitutional right. So in 2009 he called city hall to report an illegal chicken coop. The coop was his.
He was acting in solidarity with a Calgary woman who had been fined for keeping three chickens in her backyard. Hughes considered the city’s ban on urban chickens a violation of Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which states:
Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination…
Hughes insisted Calgary’s bylaw was unconstitutional because some Canadian cities allow urban chickens. He also asserted Article 25 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights was at issue:
Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
Next: The City Moves Against Hughes
The city gave Hughes two warnings and then served him with notice of a bylaw infraction. The founder of CLUCK (Canadian Liberated Urban Chicken Klub), refused to budge. On March 2, 2010, he told The Calgary Journal, “As an urban farmer feeding my child I’m considered an outlaw and a criminal by my city, and that’s fundamentally wrong.”
Four months later the city upped the ante and issued Hughes a court summons. By that time the city had turned down a proposal from its bylaw department to try a poultry pilot project that could be monitored and assessed before becoming city wide. Hughes told The Calgary Sun he was planning to ignore the $200 fine and take his case to court.
He had a chance to do that this spring. Provincial court judge Catherine Skene heard the case and told Hughes she would give her decision in September. People in Canadian cities with bans against urban hens will be watching the decision to see if it moves their cause forward or sets it back.
During the years this case has been simmering, dozens of municipalities around North America have approved bylaws that allow backyard hens (not roosters). Others have turned down similar proposals.
The arguments pro and con include food security, animal welfare, predators, noise and sanitation, but that is a story for the next post.
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