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Unconventional Comfort: Is a Calgary bylaw in violation of a sex abuse victim’s charter rights?

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WATCH: A Calgary woman fighting to keep her emotional support hens has been told the city has no mechanism in place to make "exemptions." Nancy Hixt has Part 2 of her special series – Dec 19, 2017

A Calgary woman who has been told she can’t keep her emotional support animals could argue her rights are being violated under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, according to a law professor who specializes in civil liberties.

Nikki Pike has three therapy hens. The birds have been helping her deal with severe anxiety and depression stemming from years of sexual abuse.

Unconventional Comfort Part 1: Calgary sex abuse survivor fights to keep emotional support hens

The unconventional comfort reminds her of how she dealt with trauma as a child, when her mother had chickens in their yard.

Pike has had the hens for seven months, and said during that time, her quality of life has dramatically improved.

But in Calgary, chickens are not allowed.

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Pike was told by the Calgary bylaw department she can’t keep the animals as she’s in breach of the responsible pet ownership bylaw.

The bylaw states:

Pike doesn’t see her hens as traditional livestock.

She’s not using them for food or financial gain; they are purely emotional support animals.

“I  wrote a letter to them. A very open, personal letter that would show my vulnerability about my history of abuse and anxiety and depression,” Pike said, breaking down.

“If this is a strategy that works for this individual that doesn’t contaminate or cause harm to anybody else, then frankly, I don’t see what the concern is,” forensic psychologist Dr. Patrick Baillie said.

Baillie told Global News taking the hens away from Pike could result in serious damage to her mental well-being.

“This is an individual who has a coping strategy that works,” he said. “And if you take away that coping strategy–for most people who are experiencing anxiety–there’s a significant rebound effect to an even higher level of anxiety than they might have been experiencing before.”

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Pike doesn’t know who complained to the city.

She’s says she’s been open with her neighbours and has signs up in the yard, clearly marking that the chickens are emotional support animals.

Watch Part 1 of Unconventional Comfort below:

Click to play video: 'Unconventional Comfort: Calgary sex abuse survivor told she can’t keep emotional support animals' Unconventional Comfort: Calgary sex abuse survivor told she can’t keep emotional support animals
Unconventional Comfort: Calgary sex abuse survivor told she can’t keep emotional support animals – Dec 18, 2017

Dave Murray lives next door to Pike, closest to the chickens.

“If she wouldn’t have told me, I wouldn’t have known there were chickens there at all,” Murray said.

He said he doesn’t smell or hear the birds.

“I do think there should be some exception to that looked at,” Murray said.

There have been exemptions to the bylaw, including some pigeons and pigs. But bylaw says that was before a change in policy in 2012.

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“There’s no current mechanism that we can give exemptions on,” Insp. Doug Anderson of Calgary Community Standards told Global News. “Chickens are listed as prohibited under the bylaw.” 

That could make way for Pike to make a legal challenge.

“She definitely has a good argument,” University of Calgary law professor Linda McKay-Panos said.

She said Pike could argue the bylaw violates two sections of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“She would make an argument that the bylaw, the enforcement of the bylaw, affects her life, liberty and security of the person,” McKay-Panos said. “The imposition of the bylaw on her violates or discriminates against her on the basis of her mental condition or disability. ” 

Pike plans to obey the summons she’s been given, and try to fight for her unconventional comfort in court.

“They’ve made such a difference in my life that I can’t even imagine not having them there in the morning when I need them or if I feel anxious.”

Unconventional Comfort continues Wednesday with Part 3.

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