Toronto could soon make it illegal to feed the pigeons
The topic of who in Toronto can use which types of public spaces and how has been at the forefront of many debates in recent months, thanks in large part to the ongoing evictions of homeless campers from parks.
A ban on feeding pigeons, such as the one proposed in a motion set to go before City Council later this week, is obviously a far cry from the act of booting people and their belongings from encampments — but officials are using the exact same argument to justify both measures.
"Currently, the City of Toronto Parks bylaw prohibits the feeding or attempt to feed or deposit food for consumption by wildlife in parks," reads a new motion from Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam entitled "Go Tell It To the Birds: Time to Stop Overfeeding Toronto's Pigeons."
"However, there are no specific City by-laws that restrict or prevent individuals from feeding wildlife outside of a City park. As a result, public spaces such as sidewalks, plazas, boulevards, squares, and laneways are overwhelmingly inundated with pigeons who continue to be attracted to these spaces because their food source is abundantly scattered and spread out by residents."
"Even in the City parks, where such activities are prohibited, the lack of active and ongoing enforcement has rendered scarce green space as unusable," writes Wong-Tam.
"This is especially difficult to accept in densely populated neighbourhoods where such well-maintained and accessible parkland is desperately needed by Toronto families."
Mayor John Tory ironically used a very similar argument when defending the heavy presence of police at a multi-day encampment-clearing operation in Trinity Bellwoods Park.
Tory and other city leaders have argued that tents and similar structures used by people experiencing homelessness not only pose a danger to vulnerable park residents, but that they endanger and "interfere with the use of public parks by citizens."
The motion for a crackdown on public pigeon-feeding goes beyond parks to ban the feeding of these social and intelligent birds anywhere within the City of Toronto.
"Large flocks of birds in public and private spaces create harmful nuisance because they interfere with the enjoyment and use of public and private property and can cause significant property damage," writes Wong-Tam.
"Copious amounts of food such as carbohydrates (e.g. rice, pasta, bread, seeds) are not only a messy eyesore, but attract vermin (e.g. rats) who sustain themselves through these discarded food scraps... In addition to the issues of social annoyance, excessive pigeon droppings from hundreds of birds concentrated in small areas can create unhealthy and unsanitary conditions."
While true that some in Toronto are annoyed by flocks of pigeons, feeding wild birds is also a popular pastime for many vulnerable and elderly residents — people who feed pigeons formulated seed, as opposed to stale french fries.
Pigeons are more than pests to the people who care for them; they are friends.
Wong-Tam asks that City Council direct the Executive Director of Municipal Licensing and Standards to report back on "the feasibility of expanding the pigeon-feeding prohibition by-laws to all public and private spaces in the City of Toronto."
No set fines or fees are recommended at this time, though the motion does seek to explore "the requirements needed to initiate rapid-response investigation and enforcement which would prioritize any 311 complaints related to pigeon feeding."
Issues surrounding a ban on what people can do in a public space aside, some animal experts do advise against the feeding of wild birds for their own sake, as pest control companies may be hired to eliminate large flocks.
"When flocks grow too large and become a nuisance, killing the birds is often the first plan of action. But killing pigeons doesn't work, and there are better, non-lethal ways to fix a pigeon problem," writes The Humane Society of the United States.
"Pigeons get fed plenty of handouts and garbage, but there are also well-intentioned pigeon lovers who regularly feed the birds," continues the organization. "This does the pigeons more harm than good as the pigeons begin to gather in large numbers, often leading to inhumane and ineffective attempts to reduce their numbers."
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