Government misleads citizens about the law — a case of regulation proliferation?

From the Canadian Constitution Foundation, a story titled “Trent Hills v. Bacher — Government misleads citizens about the law”:

Photo via Canadian Constitution Foundation.

Kelly and Shawn Bacher reside in the small Ontario town of Campbellford (population about 3,000), part of the municipality of Trent Hills. Shawn works in a salvaging business, tearing down old buildings. Kelly helps bring income into the household by providing housekeeping services to elderly neighbours.

Their daughter Kayla is 12 years old and has been homeschooled since 2008.

In 2009, Kelly decided that it would make a good educational project for Kayla to raise some chickens in their backyard. Both Kelly and Shawn were raised on farms and know how to look after chickens.

Kelly went to the Trent Hills municipal office and asked whether there was any law against keeping chickens in town. Three town employees gathered around, chatting with her and asking questions about home-schooling. They gave her a one-page list of prohibited animals. The list is headed “Schedule A – By-law 1998-6” so Kelly understood it to be an official document that correctly defined the municipality’s rules. It prohibits animals such as bears, kangaroos, hyenas, elephants, crocodiles, etc. It does not mention chickens. The town’s staff wished her well with her project, so she assumed everything was legal.

Relying upon that consultation, the Bachers constructed their backyard chicken coops (an open one for summer, a sheltered one with a heat lamp for winter), purchased feeding and watering equipment, and acquired 7 chicks. None of their immediate neighbours has any objection. In fact, some of the residents of a nearby seniors’ residence enjoy sitting out and watching the chickens in the summer. The Bachers now enjoy free-range eggs, and Kayla has learned about chickens and responsibility.

For reasons which remain a mystery to the Bachers, three residents of Campbellford complained to the municipality in 2011. All three complainants live several blocks away. So far as Shawn and Kelly have been able to determine, the complainants have never seen their backyard or their chickens. They can’t possibly hear or smell the chickens. Their complaints—for instance, that the chickens are too crowded—make absolutely no sense. Kelly compares her spacious coop to a luxury hotel for chickens, compared with the small spaces allotted to chickens by commercial growers.

The Bachers keep only hens, no roosters, so nobody gets awakened early in the morning by crowing. One of their immediate neighbours told them that she didn’t even know they had chickens until she read about it in the newspaper.

However, the town by-law officer responded to the complaint by informing the Bachers that their property was zoned residential, and that it was therefore illegal for them to be raising “livestock”—including chickens. Kelly explained that she never would have started the project if not for the assurance of town personnel that it would be legal. But the by-law officer said the chickens must go.

Kelly asked the town council to amend the by-law, pointing out that the nearby municipality of Quinte West (which Ontarians think of as Trenton) had recently done so. Even large cities like Vancouver have legalized backyard chickens, subject to some rules about the numbers of chickens residents can keep and where the coop has to be located.

The Bachers got plenty of support from their neighbourhood: nearly 200 people signed a petition in favour of changing the law. When the local newspaper conducted an opinion poll on the subject, 82 percent favoured legalizing backyard chicken ownership. But the town council refused to budge. The municipality won’t change the law, and has threatened to charge the Bachers with an offence unless they get rid of their chickens. Kelly and Shawn could face penalties as high as $25,000 each….”

Read it all on the Canadian Constitution Foundation website.

Here’s a CCF news release on the subject from Feb. 8, 2012:

The Canadian Constitution Foundation will provide legal representation to Shawn and Kelly Bacher of Campbellford, Ontario if the municipality of Trent Hills follows through with its threat to charge them with a bylaw violation, litigation director Karen Selick announced today.

In 2009, Kelly Bacher went to the municipal office to find out whether she could legally keep chickens in the family’s backyard. Ms. Bacher—who was raised on a farm herself—thought raising chickens would be a good educational project for her daughter Kayla, who is being homeschooled.

Three municipal staff members gave her a one-page extract from a bylaw, listing forbidden animals. The list included such exotic creatures as kangaroos, hyenas, elephants and crocodiles, but said nothing about chickens. Municipal staff wished her well with her project.

Relying on the town’s information, the Bachers built summer and winter chicken coops and purchased seven chicks.

Suddenly, in 2011, a Trent Hills bylaw officer told the Bachers to get rid of their chickens or face fines of up to $25,000 each.

Kelly Bacher feels the town misled her. “I followed proper procedure, but now I’m being told I can’t keep my girls.”

CCF’s litigation director Karen Selick said, “How can government expect citizens to be law-abiding when the government itself doesn’t know the law? When the government misleads someone who is doing her best to be a good citizen, it’s unreasonable to turn around later and charge her for following the government’s own advice.”

The Bachers have not yet received summonses and do not know when their court date will be.

Update Feb 9th:

The Bachers got served today with a summons to appear in court in Campbellford on February 23.

1 Comment

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One response to “Government misleads citizens about the law — a case of regulation proliferation?

  1. Richard Barrett

    Sounds like the members of the Municipality of Trent Hills will be voted out
    if Kelly and Shawn Bacher get fined. Wonder how many were in the poll.

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