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City of Vancouver loses appeal after court rules woman's birds are pets, not poultry

A guinea fowl is seen in this undated image. (Shutterstock) A guinea fowl is seen in this undated image. (Shutterstock)
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The City of Vancouver has lost an appeal in B.C. Supreme Court challenging a ruling made last year that a woman's two guinea fowl hens were being kept as pets, not poultry.

Justice Neena Sharma's decision on the appeal was handed down Monday, after the city argued again that "a guinea fowl is a fowl, and therefore prohibited." The matter was first brought before the court by Arielle Reid, who disputed a charge laid by the city alleging she violated a municipal bylaw by "harbouring a prohibited bird." 

While the city allows exotic birds to be kept as pets as long as a person does not have more than 12, it also prohibits the keeping of most types of poultry or fowl. However, guinea fowl are not explicitly mentioned on the list of what is allowed or on the list of what is prohibited.

When determining whether the guinea fowl hens were pets or poultry, the lower court judge considered the reasons why Reid had the birds, the care she took of them and that her decision to keep them did not adversely impact anyone else.

"The disputant kept them as beloved companions, for the pure pleasure of their proximity. Perhaps the same reasons many keep canines or felines, budgies or parrots," the September 2023 decision says.

"Her conduct in stewardship and care of these birds is exemplary. She has provided for these birds an exceptional sanctuary. (The evidence) shows an excellent coop, clean, airy and bright with fresh water and food, demonstrating the disputant’s diligent efforts in creating a comfortable habitat for these beautiful birds."

But in its appeal, the city argued its bylaw is to prohibit keeping of animals in city limits unless an animal is specifically exempt. The city also argued the intention of the person keeping a prohibited animal shouldn't be a factor in the offence.

"The fact that she kept them for the 'pure joy of their companionship' does not take them outside of the category of being a 'fowl,'" Sharma's summary of the city's appeal said.

Once again, Reid disagreed, saying that because the bylaw doesn't specifically mention guinea fowl by name, it can't be prohibited.

Sharma also disagreed with the city, saying that while the bylaw does prohibit certain animals, "in no section does it state that 'animals' or even classes of animals are prohibited unless exempted."

"I am not persuaded that a guinea fowl is necessarily a fowl because the word 'fowl' appears in its commonly held English name," Sharma wrote. "The simplicity of the city’s argument may be appealing, but it does not account for the surrounding words, context and purpose of (the bylaw)."

Sharma said Reid gave several examples of other "oddities" in the English language, specifically regarding animals.

"For instance, doves and pigeons are, in fact, the same animal, but when we eat them, they are called squab," Sharma's decision said. "Animal control legislation discussing 'cats,' as they are commonly understood, may not intend to include 'bobcats,' in the same manner that bylaws targeting 'fowl' may not intend to include 'guinea fowl.'"

Sharma determined that, whether the omission of guinea fowl in the city's bylaw was deliberate or inadvertent, it's not something that can be corrected by the court.

"Importantly, the city bears the burden, as prosecutor, to prove that the bylaw applied. Ms. Reid raised an ambiguity about the applicability of the bylaw to her birds," Sharma wrote. "The city was required to bring evidence or make submissions to resolve that contested issue. It failed to do so."

With files from CTV News Vancouver's Lisa Steacy 

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