Mississauga allows resident to keep his chickens for now, plans to revisit chicken bylaw next year

 

A Mississauga man who rescues chickens from certain death got some good news from the city during a Nov. 18 general committee meeting. 

Chris Magno, a resident who is raising chickens in a residential area, told city staff and councillors that he wants to continue caring for his birds at home after receiving a bylaw infraction notice from the municipality. 

Magno, who received sympathy and support from several councillors, also called on the city to revisit its ban on residential chicken ownership, arguing that responsible owners should not be prohibited from keeping the egg-producing livestock on their property. 

"On Oct. 23, Mississauga Animal Services received a complaint about chickens at my home. It was not about noise, rats or mess, it was just a snitch," Magno told council, laughingly adding that the neighbour "ratted him out like a cowardly chicken." 

Magno insisted that he was only reported to the city for having chickens and not for being responsible for any sort of nuisance related to the birds—something city staff confirmed. 

Magno, who told council that he's also interested in achieving designation as a charitable rescue organization, said the bylaw officer directed him to ask the city for an exemption from the bylaw. 

Fortunately for Magno, city staff agreed that he can keep his birds until at least March 2021, as that's when a formal report on suburban (or backyard) chicken ownership in Mississauga will come before council. 

City staff are currently monitoring Toronto's backyard chicken pilot program and preparing to come back with recommendations next year. 

As of now, the city's animal care and control bylaw prohibits residents from keeping chickens and other farm animals on private residential properties that are not located on lands zoned for agricultural use.  

Magno, who said that he houses his chickens in a 10 x 20 enclosure surrounded by security cameras, told council that he completed a course in pest management to ensure that the coop doesn't attract rodents. 

He also argued that backyard chickens pose no significant health threat to the community if the enclosures are cleaned and the birds properly cared for, adding that it's extremely rare for a person to contract a disease (such as avian flu) from a chicken

Magno also argued that people who choose to responsibly raise backyard chickens can educate the local community on where food comes from. 

"I'm happy to show constituents where our food comes from," he told council, adding that children can visit coops and learn about how important chickens are and what eggs look like when they're first laid. 

"Our food comes from chickens, not a sterilized box on aisle 12," he said, adding that he's not the only person responsibly raising chickens in the city. 

"Urban backyard chicken management can be done safely and humanly. There are thousands of well-kept, happy, healthy chickens in your neighbourhood."  

At the meeting, Ward 3 Councillor Chris Fonseca said that she has received "a flurry of emails" from residents asking her to save Magno's chickens. 

"I did receive a flurry of emails [from] residents with the heading 'Save the Chickens' and I've talked to [Magno] over email," she said, adding that she asked that Magno be able to keep his chickens until the backyard poultry report comes out next year. 

Ward 11 Councillor George Carlson expressed his support for Magno, offering to support a motion to direct staff to allow him to keep his chickens until next year's report is released.

"Happy to support a motion to extend the exemption. I kept chickens for many years, my father raised them. They were no trouble, like with dogs, any problems are with the owners. If you have rats or mess, you're a bad custodian of chickens," he said.

Andra Maxwell, the city's solicitor, interjected to say that council cannot pass a motion to direct Animal Services to grant an exemption, emphasizing that council is not permitted to direct enforcement officers. 

After Maxwell spoke, Jay Smith, the manager of Animal Services, said that his team would not take any disciplinary action against Magno for the time being. 

"[Magno has made] a reasonable request," Smith told council. 

"We do have a report in progress, so it's reasonable to extend the deputant's notice of contravention until the report comes back."  

Not all councillors were quite as supportive, with Ward 7 Councillor Dipika Damerla asking Magno why he chose to violate the city's existing bylaw. Damerla also said she's reserving judgment on the issue until the report comes out, but signalled she wouldn't have been comfortable with a motion permitting "blanket exemptions" on residential chicken ownership. 

Later that day, Ward 9 Councillor Pat Saito took to social media to share her concerns over Magno's deputation, suggesting that illegal chickens could be one factor driving increased rat sightings in Mississauga

"Listening to a request to allow residents to keep chickens in their backyards. Given the increase in rats, maybe the illegal ones that are being referred to are adding to the problem," Saito wrote on Facebook. 

"I have not had many residents support this in their own neighbourhoods…would be nice to have our own fresh eggs but there are many more concerns to look at." 

Magno told council that allowing local residents to keep chickens and sell eggs might help people visit crowded grocery store less often amid the pandemic, adding that leaders have already passed legislation to help the food service industry.

"You've made exceptions for patios and wine [with delivery], so please provide an exemption for the keeping of chickens. These chickens will keep people out of grocery stores and allow families to enjoy physically-distanced, outdoor activities," he said.

The report on backyard chickens will be made available in early 2021.

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