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Salt Spring Island ‘chicken war’ moves to court as rooster owner challenges noise bylaw

Warren Dingman calls them “chicken wars” — paltry poultry disputes that crop up on B.C.’s Gulf Islands each year as dependably as a cockerel’s crow.

Ground zero for 2022 is Salt Spring Island, where concerns about rooster noise have led to bylaw tickets, spreads in the local newspaper and even a pro-rooster petition.

As Islands Trust head bylaw officer, Dingman’s bailiwick only extends to land use. Noise complaints are the Capital Regional District’s business. But that doesn’t mean residents don’t complain to him. Or that he doesn’t have sympathy for both sides of the debate.

He recently spoke with a man on a different island who thought the rooster next door was so loud its owners must have hooked the bird up to an amplifier.

“I don’t think that’s true, but that’s what it’s like to him,” Dingman says.

“It is a rural area, and on a great many of the properties, people are going to be able to do agriculture, and they’re going to be keeping chickens. And so that comes as a shock to some folks.”

‘One thing that never seems to die’

Salt Spring’s rooster ruckus may come to a head next month in Victoria provincial court when hobby farmer Ashleigh Roslinsky plans to challenge a ticket for violating the island’s noise abatement bylaw.

The battle highlights the tension between rules governing nuisance noise and rural neighbourhood zoning that allows small acreage owners like Roslinsky — who also keeps hens, geese, and ducks — to raise the creatures that fill Salt Spring’s ubiquitous farm stands.

Roslinksy is hoping to convince a judge to toss one of two citations she’s racked up in the past year — setting a precedent to force the regional district to reconsider its approach to roosters in the future.

salt spring island chicken war moves to court as rooster owner challenges noise bylaw
Ashleigh Roslinsky is a hobby farmer on Salt Spring Island who keeps hens, geese, and ducks — as well as a rooster named Orion. (Submitted by Ashleigh Roslinsky)

She claims the district has taken decibel readings of her rooster — Orion — and found that he’s no louder than the ferry traffic that regularly flows past the home of the neighbours she blames for her tickets.

“It’s frustrating because it’s that one thing that never seems to die,” she says.

“It’s just going to keep going to court. It’s not only a waste of my time at this point. But it’s a waste of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money because now I have to go to a judge.”

Fowl play afoot?

The Capital Regional District says three of a total of seven rooster-related complaints this year have come from Salt Spring. In 2021, the island generated five of the region’s 11 complaints. 

The nuisance noise bylaw doesn’t speak to roosters specifically but does put a general prohibition on noises or sounds that tend “to disturb the quiet, peace, rest, enjoyment, comfort or convenience of the neighbourhood.”

salt spring island chicken war moves to court as rooster owner challenges noise bylaw 1
Orion the rooster is the subject of noise complaints on Salt Spring Island. (Submitted by Ashleigh Roslinsky)

In an email to the CBC, the district said enforcement officers focus on “education and working together as a first step.”

Mitigation measures include automatic doors that prevent the rooster from exiting the coop before 7 a.m. or changing the placement of the coop to muffle the sound.

“If there are no good faith efforts made by the noise generator to mitigate the noise we have no alternative but to consider enforcement measures [ticketing],” the district says.

The bylaw provides an exemption for “noise associated with legitimate farm operations” — a distinction that led to complaints to B.C.’s Farm Industry Review Board (BCFIRB) from three different residents against three separate Salt Spring hobby farmers, including Roslinsky.

The board oversees the Farm Practices Protection Act, which governs farm business and farm operations. Chairman Peter Donkers dismissed all three complaints after concluding the subjects of the complaints didn’t fit into either category.

He called Roslinsky’s operation more of “a hobby or lifestyle preference” and noted that even the man who filed the complaint didn’t think she was a farmer.

salt spring island chicken war moves to court as rooster owner challenges noise bylaw 2
Salt Spring Island is a haven for around 10,000 residents — mostly artisans, farmers, musicians and entrepreneurs. But the noise associated with the island’s rural nature can come as a surprise to people unfamiliar with roosters. (Nicole Mordant/REUTERS)

“Given the complainant’s view that the respondent is not a farmer and is not carrying on a farm business, it is difficult to understand why he filed a farm practices complaint in the first place,” Donkers wrote, underlining the words “farm practices.”

But then maybe the sole point of complaining was to get rejected?

Donkers speculated that fowl play might be afoot — “perhaps, his motivation is to get a determination … that may assist in dealings with local government.”

‘Visions of Elmer Fudd’

The complainant didn’t return a call from CBC.

According to Donkers, the complainant said Roslinsky didn’t need a rooster to sell eggs and said he didn’t take issue with her “attempts at self-sufficiency, but says he has a right to a peaceable existence as set out in local government bylaws.” He claimed the rooster started making noise at 4 a.m. in the summer months. 

Letters to the Gulf Islands Driftwood newspaper in the wake of two articles on the controversy written by the aptly named Emelie Peacock make it clear how irritating an insistent rooster can be.

“We are not NIMBY folks, just people who hope to one day sleep a full night through without interruption at 4 a.m.,” wrote one woman.

“Visions of Elmer Fudd and a shotgun fusillade passed through my sleep-deprived mind,” another resident wrote as he described the cock next door.

A third woman cited the Farm Industry Review Board decisions, calling on residents to complain to the district and “don’t feel bad about it … You are entitled to peace, quiet and rest as much as your neighbour is entitled to their backyard hobby.”

Roslinsky says she and Orion are ready for their day in court. She says she needs the bird to keep predators away from her hens and frames the issue as one of food security.

To that end, she’s gathered more than 300 signatures on a petition dedicated to “the importance of roosters to any farm, large or small.”

“Roosters create noise,” the call to arms reads. 

“As do children, cars, crows, and cows.”

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