North Vancouver mayor announces independent review of pigeon ban amid conflict of interest allegations
CBC News provided mayor with new emails showing that a councillor in conflict of interest asked for the ban
North Vancouver District Mayor Mike Little has ordered an independent review of the actions of all members of council over the passing of a bylaw that bans pigeons in the municipality.
Little made the announcement on Thursday after CBC News provided him new emails from Coun. Betty Forbes — who has complained about the pigeons owned by her next-door neighbour for years — where she explicitly asked councillors to pass a bylaw banning them in the district, two days before the matter was first discussed at council.
"My priority request is to pass a new bylaw outlawing pigeons in the District of North Vancouver," said North Vancouver District Coun. Betty Forbes in an email to fellow councillors Lisa Muri and Megan Curren.
Forbes' email — released on Wednesday by the district through a Freedom of Information request — was sent on July 6, two days before the meeting where Muri had originally put forward a motion requesting staff amend the pigeon bylaw so the birds would be forced to be enclosed at all times.
But Forbes wanted a complete ban, even though district staff knew of only one person in the district owning pigeons — her neighbour, Kulwant Dulay.
"I have a pool that pigeons fly over and poop as well as flying and roosting on the rest of my property," she wrote.
"Please just pass an actual bylaw outlawing them, not rescinding our current bylaw."
Two days later, Muri amended her motion at the council meeting, asking for staff to bring forward a new bylaw prohibiting pigeons entirely, getting rid of a law that had allowed them since 1971.
Curren seconded the motion, and the pigeon prohibition bylaw was passed by council on Nov. 4.
Little said the city's top bureaucrat, chief administrative officer David Stuart, would commission the review.
Conflict of interest
Forbes, who has declined all requests to speak to CBC News about the issue, complained about Dulay's pigeons soon after he moved next door to her in 2016, in a series of emails and phone calls to district staff and elected officials.
At a public hearing in 2017 about chicken coops, she said they had damaged her property and would have an impact on her property values.
"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."
Forbes was elected in 2018 and recused herself from all council discussions about the bylaw, citing a conflict of interest.
However, B.C.'s Community Charter 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."
In both cases, provincial law says the punishment is disqualification [from office] "unless the contravention was done inadvertently or because of an error in judgment made in good faith."
The new emails remove previous ambiguity over whether Forbes attempted to influence councillors about the pigeon bylaw once she was elected.
Nathalie Baker, a lawyer with Eyeford Partners specializing in municipal law, said "it's certainly a possibility" Forbes contravened the charter.
"Under the act, you're not supposed to just refrain from voting, but also from trying to influence others," she said.
However, Baker said Forbes could be found innocent if it was determined that she made an error of judgment in good faith.
At last Monday's council meeting, Forbes made her only comments on the controversy to date, and explicitly used that language in describing the situation.
"If I have erred in any way, I assure council and the community that it was done inadvertently and in good faith with my understanding, as a new councillor, of conflict-of-interest rules."
Aside from Little, most councillors did not respond to comment from CBC News about the new information in the emails. Councillors Mathew Bond and Jordan Back — who voted against the ban — declined, citing the potentially serious nature of them.
But Coun. Jim Hanson, who voted for the ban said he wanted more answers.
"I would prefer if everyone gave a fair accounting of what took place," he said. "If there is a process available that would restore confidence, I would support that."
Council could vote to reconsider the ban at its next meeting on Monday, though it would require some who originally approved the bylaw to put forward the new motion.
Baker said any conflict of interest case against Forbes would have to be approved by a two-thirds vote of council or dealt with in court if an application is made by at least 10 members of the public.
If the case does head to court, Integrity B.C. executive director Dermod Travis believes Forbes would face a tough case to prove she acted in good faith.
"She has crossed the line of an ethical standard that citizens should expect from their local council," he said. "And, I think, when you judge what she has done since elected on this file, that would be one very tough hill to climb."