Which comes first, the chicken or the bylaw? In the city of Hamilton, the answer is neither.
The city's planning committee voted down an attempt at an urban chicken bylaw Tuesday, saying it was one more problem Hamilton doesn't need.
"We have farmers out there. They produce eggs," said Coun. Robert Pasuta at the idea of allowing residents to keep chickens. "There will be eggs in the store until the last person breathes on this earth."
Every councillor but Jason Farr of Ward 2 brushed off the notion of a bylaw that would let people keep chickens to produce eggs in their backyards. Staff presented a report citing the chicken bylaws of other municipalities.
In Niagara, for example, no licence is required, but there is a bylaw to govern the management of urban chickens. The region gets two to three complaints per year.
In Guelph, there are about 40 chickens per 40,000 households and a handful of complaints from neighbours per year.
Many councillors said would-be chicken owners can get eggs from the store. Coun. Maria Pearson said she has gotten complaints about chickens and livestock in Stoney Creek.
"I have had to deal with livestock being kept for food on these properties over the years," she said, "from pigeons to chickens to rabbits to the whole gamut. It has created nuisances in the neighbourhood."
But Jeremy Compton, a Ward 1 resident and part of the informal group Hamilton Urban Chickens, says councillors are missing the point.
Urban chicken owners are ethical food advocates, and chickens are not dirty animals, says the website hamiltonchickens.com. And Compton wanted to have a chicken as a family project for him and his children.
"I asked my daughter once out of curiosity where eggs came from. She just looked at me like I had three eyes and said 'from the store,'" said Compton, who also has a vegetable garden.
Farr fought for a bylaw. To reduce staff time, he suggested borrowing parts of bylaws in other municipalities and having it as a pilot project.
"So it's too much work to just borrow the extensive bylaws from places like Guelph and Kingston, which see limited amounts of neighbour complaints because of the vast amount of restrictions they have?" he said. "That's too time consuming?"
But other councillors sided with Robert Hall, director of the health protection division for Public Health Services, who said the benefits perceived by urban chicken advocates are anecdotal.
Bylaw could deal with health risks
"It's not a position of public health to believe there is a benefit," he said.
The report said there are some health risks to having chickens in backyards, but the risks could be mitigated with a regulatory tool such as an urban chicken bylaw.
Compton said the committee, which dealt with the issue near the end of a nine-hour meeting, didn't give it a fair hearing.
Some councillors made chicken jokes all day and then got up from the table when the issue was dealt with, "totally disinterested," he said.
"They have their set views and they don't even want to look at it."