See this recent story by David Rider, for the Toronto Star:
Toronto’s backyard chicken farmers wait for the sky to fall
The story explores the plight of those Torontonians who opt to raise chickens in their backyards, a practice forbidden under Section 349 of the city’s Municipal Code. The focus is on the 3 chickens raised by Trish Tervit and her daughters.
What are we to think, ethically, of this lawless behaviour? I’m sympathetic. The ban on backyard agriculture is exceedingly broad, and (as far as I can see) goes beyond whatever public-policy objectives those who drafted it could reasonably have had in mind. Limits on the number of chickens raised, or chicken “density,” perhaps, would make sense. An outright ban does not.
It’s also worth noting that this is an example of the very best kind of law-breaking, namely the rather open form of law-breaking in which the law-breaker violates what she sees as an unjust law, and does so publicly, happily risking the consequences of her behaviour. It is, in other words, a minor form of civil disobedience.
What values lie behind this bit of backyard activism? In Tervit’s words, “…it’s teaching kids a little about where their food comes from, that there are ways to sustain yourself, and that chickens can walk around and eat grass and be chickens, as opposed to other ways egg production takes place.” So the objective, here is educational — generally, a worthy kind of goal. But the bigger point, here, ethically, is that when the relevant behaviour doesn’t hurt anyone else, there shouldn’t be a law against it in the first place.
(For more on these themes, see my earlier posting on “What’s the Point of Urban Farming?”)
Disclosure: Trish is a friend of mine. The eggs are delicious!