'What the flock?,' councillor asks at city votes to allow backyard chickens in 4 wards

Backyard chickens will no longer be banned in four parts of Toronto soon, after city council voted to approve a pilot project letting people keep up to four hens in their yards.

Public hasn't had chance to discuss the pilot, but council votes to go ahead anyway

If you live in one of four Toronto wards, you'll soon be able to keep chickens in your backyard as part of a city pilot project. (John Rieti/CBC)

Backyard chickens will no longer be banned in four parts of Toronto, after city council voted to approve a pilot project letting people keep up to four hens in their yard.

After a three hour debate that played out over two days, the birds will soon be welcome in:

  • Ward 5, Etobicoke-Lakeshore.
  • Ward 13, Parkdale-High Park.
  • Ward 21, St. Paul's.
  • Ward 32, Beaches-East York.

The lengthy discourse prompted some to blast council's list of priorities.

"What the flock is going on at city hall?" asked Coun. Giorgio Mammoliti, who then skipped the vote on the topic.

Others criticized councillors for going ahead with a pilot project that wasn't brought through the committee process where the public would have been able to raise concerns. Coun. Jon Burnside called that "government at its worst."

They are as clean as cats and dogs.- Coun. Joe Mihevc

"This is why people laugh at council ... give your heads a shake," he said.

But the two councillors who hatched the plan, Joe Mihevc and Justin Di Ciano, were delighted with the 23-14 vote in their favour. Both say they'll be getting chickens as soon as the pilot starts.

"To have a few pets in your backyard that also have the benefit of producing eggs, there's nothing wrong with it from a public health perspective, from a nuisance perspective," Mihevc told reporters.

"They are as clean as cats and dogs."

Mihevc defended bringing the pilot project idea straight to city council, saying people have been asking the city for some time to remove chickens from the list of prohibited animals, and that the project will include public consultation.

The pilot came up amid another vote, on whether or not to add birds like flamingos and penguins to the city's list of prohibited animals, which passed. 

Roosters banned, no chickens in condos

Coun. Joe Mihevc, left, and Coun. Justin Di Ciano, second left, will soon add backyard chickens to their list of constituents. (John Rieti/CBC)

The project will ban roosters (because their sunrise crowing was deemed too annoying for city life) and ensure that only those with sufficient outdoor space can keep the birds. 

The city's municipal licensing and standards division will be in charge of setting out other guidelines. 

During the lengthy debate, Di Ciano, who says his father has chickens in his backyard, accused councillors who are opposed to the pilot of "fear mongering," and engaging in Donald Trump-like politics of fear.

Critics highlight risk of predators

Several councillors who voted against the plan highlighted concerns that chickens will lure predators, like raccoons and coyotes, and could potentially transmit salmonella.

Demonstrators hold a rally against a proposed pilot project to allow some in Toronto to keep backyard chickens. (John Rieti/CBC)

Coun. Frances Nunziata, whose ward sits adjacent to Parkdale-High Park, brought up another issue. What would happen, she asked, if chickens escaped and crossed the rail line separating the wards — a city hall nod to "Why did the chicken cross the road?"

Yesterday, a small group of demonstrators with Animal Rights Toronto rallied against the plan, first debated back in July, outside city hall. However, the group had left by the time councillors actually started debating the matter and didn't return for Tuesday's vote.

Coun. Stephen Holyday warned this marks the "the introduction of livestock into the city," and it's not clear where that will end, nor how much work it will create for city officials.

Councillors did put forward motion to refer the matter back to staff to study further, but that was rejected. 

Mayor John Tory voted in favour of going ahead with the backyard chicken pilot project.


John Rieti is the senior producer of digital at CBC Toronto. Born and raised in Newfoundland, John has worked in CBC newsrooms across the country. In Toronto, he's covered everything from the Blue Jays to Toronto city hall. Outside of work, catch him cycling in search of the city's best coffee.


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