British Columbia

North Vancouver asks Supreme Court to toss pigeon suit because filers are from the wrong North Vancouver

A court case that could disqualify District of North Vancouver (DNV) councillors from office over a pigeon ban should be thrown out because of municipal boundaries, argues the district. 

Conflict of interest petition needs 10 valid co-signers, but two of the 11 live in the city, not the district

Kulwant Dulay is pictured in his pigeon coop where he keeps homing pigeons at his home in the District of North Vancouver. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

A court case that could disqualify District of North Vancouver (DNV) councillors from office over a pigeon ban should be thrown out because of municipal boundaries, argues the district. 

In December, 11 people filed a conflict of interest petition in B.C. Supreme Court against the DNV and councillors Betty Forbes and Lisa Muri over the pigeon prohibition bylaw moved by Muri and passed by council in early November.

Forbes lives next door to Kulwant Dulay, who owns several homing pigeons, and she complained at a public hearing that Dulay's pigeon coops impacted her property values. She also sent an email to Muri and another councillor explicitly asking for pigeons to be banned, two days before Muri first discussed the matter at council.

But a conflict of interest petition requires 10 or more electors from a municipality to make the court filing. 

And in its response on Jan. 14, the municipality said there was one problem with the case: two of the signatories don't live in the District of North Vancouver.

They live in the city.  

The City of North Vancouver is surrounded by the District. The two petitioners who live in the city have the approximate location of their homes circled in red. (City of North Vancouver)

Claim to be amended

"The District opposes the Petition solely on grounds relating to the standing of the petitioners," reads the court filing, pointing out that the addresses of two of them — John Harvey and Harsh Sharma — are in the neighbouring municipality, two and six blocks away from the border respectively. 

"That's true. I am in the city," said Sharma, when asked him to confirm he wasn't a valid signatory.

"I wasn't aware of anything, I just think what [Dulay] is going through is not right."

Lawson Lundell, the legal firm representing the petitioners, did not respond to a request for comment Thursday. A person with knowledge of the case said the mistake was one of haste and not deceit, made in an attempt to meet a potential filing deadline and that the claim would be amended with the names of two additional DNV residents.

Should that take place, it will be up to a judge to decide whether the amendment is admissible. 

The City of North Vancouver became a separate municipality from the district in 1907, and while the subject of amalgamation comes up periodically, the two remain completely separate entities. 

North Vancouver District Coun. Betty Forbes reads a statement to council on Nov. 18, 2019, defending the actions she took to recuse herself from a conflict of interest around a proposed ban on pigeons. (Harman/CBC News)

Muri seeks dismissal as well

Forbes has refused all requests for comment from CBC News about the pigeon controversy, but on Wednesday a lawyer for Muri spoke on the matter after she filed her own response to the petition.

"It looks to us like the petition is just a political stunt, perhaps with some sort of extraneous purpose, and it just has no merit whatsoever," said Greg McDade. 

"She and the other three councillors voted for this, because the district, in their view, needed that bylaw." 

Forbes recused herself from voting on the bylaw, but under B.C.'s Community Charter, a councillor can be found in violation of conflict of interest rules if they try to influence other councillors on a matter where they have a financial interest.

While Forbes said in 2017 that the next door pigeons would have an impact on her property values, McDade said, didn't necessarily meet the standard of a "pecuniary interest."

"In terms of real, objective sense — regardless of what Coun. Forbes said or not — the petitioners have to prove that is true, and they might have a little bit of difficulty in that."

The district has also commissioned an independent investigation into the pigeon controversy, which is expected to be complete by the end of the month.  

Muri's claim calls the allegations "serious and scurrilous ... for an irrelevant political purpose" and says she wasn't served the petition within seven days of filing, as required.

And her lawyer believes the pigeon flap has gone far enough.

"A minority of individuals who are opposed to this who are trying to create a mountain out of a molehill," McDade said.

"Or a mountain out of a pigeon coop."

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