British Columbia

North Vancouver pigeon controversy comes to an end as legal case against councillor dropped

North Vancouver District Coun. Betty Forbes is no longer facing a legal challenge over whether her complaints about her next-door neighbour's pigeons and subsequent lobbying of council to enact a ban on anyone owning the birds is a conflict of interest.

Betty Forbes had privately lobbied for a ban on owning birds, but publicly declared a conflict of interest

North Vancouver District Coun. Betty Forbes had been in a years-long dispute with her neighbour over his pigeons and, subsequently, became involved in a years-long legal action over her lobbying of councillors to ban pigeons. (CBC News)

The case of a North Vancouver District councillor who wanted pigeons banned from her municipality — including those of her next door neighbour — has come to an end. 

Legal action against Coun. Betty Forbes has been discontinued by a group of residents who filed a petition in B.C. Supreme Court. 

The legal action sought to remove her from office on conflict of interest charges, alleging she broke B.C.'s Community Charter when she sent emails to multiple councillors asking for a ban on owning pigeons, which was subsequently enacted

That petition was filed in December 2019. But the validity of the legal action was challenged when it turned out two of the people on the petition lived in the City of North Vancouver, rather than the District, forcing the petitioners to resubmit their challenge with new people.

Then, the pandemic delayed a scheduled court date for nearly a year — and just a few days before it was to begin, the petitioners decided to drop the case. 

"We kind of got what we wanted," said Wayne Messenger, one of the petitioners. 

Since the legal action began, the District had completed an independent review of the decision to ban pigeons, which was prompted by CBC News providing Mayor Mike Little with Freedom of Information documents showing that Forbes had privately pushed for a pigeon ban, even though she had publicly declared a conflict of interest. 

When the pigeon ban was passed, staff told councillors there was only one active file about pigeons in the municipality, which turned out to be that of Forbes and her neighbour. 

Following the investigation, council decided to repeal the pigeon ban, and is in the process of drafting a new bylaw that updates the previous decades-old bylaw which allowed them. 

"We had achieved what we really set out to do," said Messenger, who said the possibility of paying extra costs if a judge ruled the resubmitted petition was invalid "may have been a small consideration" for dropping the case. 

Kulwant Dulay, Forbes's next door neighbour, is pictured in his pigeon coop where he keeps homing pigeons at his home. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

'Blown out of proportion'

Forbes did not respond to a request for comment from CBC News, but her lawyer Robert Grant said she was pleased.

"This has been hanging over her head for a long time," he said.

"And in fact, this whole controversy has been so blown out of proportion that she's happy to have the litigation behind her. And, I hope, this incident."

Grant said they were confident a judge would have ruled against the resubmitted petition, arguing that those trying to remove Forbes from office "did not comply with strict requirements under the Act."

But he said that even if the case had gone ahead, he believed Forbes would have ultimately prevailed. 

"My view, I can tell you, is that there was no conflict because she had no financial interest," he said. 

"Her interest was not personal … but at the end of the day, that was complicated, because she had a neighbour that kept pigeons, and she'd expressed views about it before."

In addition, the petitioners discontinued their legal action against Coun. Lisa Muri (who brought forward the motion banning pigeons) and the District of North Vancouver. 

"I wouldn't say I'm disappointed or elated," said Messenger. 

"It just didn't matter. It will never be decided, because it's not going before a judge, so we won't know — and neither will the public — whether there was a conflict of interest or not." 

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