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Urban chickens dealt setback at Regina City Hall

No go for report that could eventually have led to backyard hens pilot project in the city
Councillor Shanon Zachidniak speaks about the defeat of her motion following the Feb 1 council meeting.

REGINA - In the end, council was unenthusiastic about the idea of a pilot project for keeping backyard hens in the city of Regina.

Council ended up voting down a watered-down motion from Councillor Shanon Zachidniak that would have directed administration to prepare a report outlining the parameters and implications of a backyard hen pilot project, which would have come back to the Oct. 9 meeting of council. In making her motion, Zachidniak had cited strong public feedback in favor of backyard hens.

“I don’t see why we can’t at least advance a report that thousands of people have asked us for", said Zachidniak.

Such a report could have set the stage for a bylaw to come forward, which could have permitted a backyard hen pilot project to go ahead in 2025 -- one that could have seen at least three and no more than six hens permitted at locations in city.

But the vote on the report ended up in a 5-5 tie, which meant Zachidniak's motion was defeated. The result drew audible cries of disgust from the many in the gallery who were on hand to support the backyard hens pilot project.

Council had heard from over a dozen delegations who supported a backyard hen pilot project. Regina resident Amy Snider of Queen City Chickens, who legally is able to keep chickens in the city as a support animal, had been pushing for the pilot project in the city.

She noted it would be similar to what was allowed in 50 other cities throughout the country. 

“Every province and territory other than Saskatchewan and Manitoba has urban hen programs,” said Snider. “Saskatchewan doesn’t need to be last. Let that fall to Manitoba.”

She pointed to support for her hens from residents in the surrounding neighbourhood, and she and others who presented had noted backyard hens posed minimal problems.

But a host of other concerns were cited by the council members who eventually voted against the proposal. Councillors who represented the periphery areas of the city such as Councillor Lori Bresciani pointed to concerns raised from residents about not backyard hens, but coyotes.

“In my area of town coyotes are a huge, huge problem,” said Bresciani, who raised concerns from residents they could be attracted to backyard hens. “I know they are drawn to chickens. I grew up on a farm. I know that.”

While she acknowledged the turnout in the gallery of those who came to speak, Bresciani added “we have a whole city that should be weighing in” to see if this was something that they wanted to move forward with. 

Councillor Bob Hawkins raised another concern about avian flu and what could happen with transmission of viruses. 

“It might not happen often but when it happens it’s tragic,” said Hawkins of avian flu. He saw backyard hens as a “huge risk” for the city.

Other concerns were raised about costs, and the capacity of the busy bylaw officers to take on additional chores of dealing with backyard hens. 

Ultimately, said Mayor Sandra Masters to reporters, there was a sense the city faced other priorities right now.

“I think at this particular point in time we’ve got some pretty big issues as a city… Trying to accelerate, getting more housing into market, we’ve got rezoning to do, we’ve got financial reporting issues to focus on,” said Masters. 

She also pointed to the work that bylaw enforcement already had to do in dealing with boarded-up properties, housing and other issues, and expressed concern this would “kind of distract from that work at this particular point in time.”

“I’m not opposed to it in the future. I just think right now throughout this year we’ve got some big things we need to move and some big policy.”

Mayor Masters had joined councillors Bresciani, Hawkins, John Findura and Landon Mohl in voting no to the report. The other council members cast votes in favor, except for Councillor Terina Nelson who was away from the meeting.

Afterwards, Councillor Zachidniak vented her frustrations to reporters about the result.

"I’m not feeling very great about backyard chickens,” said Zachidniak, who believes those advocating for the backyard chickens will continue to come back to council in the future on the issue.

Her original motion had called for a two-year pilot project, but that language ended up being removed so that the final motion only called for a report — and that didn’t pass in the end. Zachidniak thought the end result sent a discouraging message to the public.

“I can understand why many folks in Regina are frustrated with council and are frustrated with democracy when they feel that their elected officials don't listen to them. I think that's what it says to them. Your elected officials aren't listening. And I think that's really unfortunate."

She described the amount of support for the project, which included a petition, as “overwhelming.” As for the concerns raised about coyotes and so on, Zachidniak noted that would have been the point of a report — to address those concerns.

When asked if this could be a municipal election issue this fall, Zachidniak said “I don’t know, but if re-elected, I’m committed to bringing this motion back after the next election and I’m happy to be part of those efforts to continue pushing cancelled to at least explore this idea.”

As for her own re-election plans, Zachidniak said she “hadn't formalized that but I'm feeling a bit of fire right now. I mean, I’ve heard a lot of support about this… I guess I'll just say I'm strongly considering it and even more strongly today."