Toronto City Council votes to let cats roam the streets – at least for now

The city council on Wednesday rejected a proposal to restrict the freedom of domestic cats.

Instead of enacting an anti-homelessness bylaw backed by a city committee earlier this month to keep pets indoors, council voted to change the motion and grant an exception for domestic cats and pigeons.

Com. Shelley Carroll (Ward 17, Don Valley North) originally moved the motion both to protect cats from harm and to protect cat wildlife.

Carroll, who cited an Environment Canada study that found more than 200 million birds are killed each year by cats, was backed by environmentalists including the director of the Toronto Wildlife Centre.

Mayor John Tory opposed the motion, telling reporters earlier this month that he did not believe the motion, if signed into law, would be binding.

At Wednesday’s board meeting, the board adopted a Modified version of Carroll’s motion, which will allow cats to be released onto the streets, but also calls for further work on increased licensing and microchipping of domestic cats.

Carroll said Wednesday that chipping and licensing cats is key to keeping them off the streets.

“Every GTA municipality around us has an anti-homelessness bylaw,” she said. “They have it because they’ve had more success than us (with pet permits). Only 4% of cats (in Toronto) have a license. That’s what makes it possible to have an anti-homelessness rule, because you can pick them up and bring them back to their owners with a warning, not end up with a shelter full of cats.

The motion also prohibits feeding wildlife other than through bird feeders. Additionally, Torontonians can now only have a maximum of four rabbits or guinea pigs, unless they already own more than four, in which case they can keep up to 10.

And pigeon owners now have to keep their flock under 30 birds. Unless it’s breeding season, when they can have 50.

Other council developments on Wednesday included:

  • A stupid motion. Mark Grimes (Ward 3, Etobicoke-Lakeshore) to ask the Roncesvalles Village BIA to reconsider the name of its Polish festival was adopted. The BIA’s decision to drop “Polish” from the name of the festival this month has sparked an outcry.
  • Tory’s motion to fill Councilman Michael Ford’s spot on the police board with Grimes passed.
  • Ford’s former council seat (Ward 1, Etobicoke North) remains vacant after her replacement, Rosemarie Bryan, resigned hours after her appointment when her homophobic social media posts surfaced. Tory’s motion to try to refill the seat in August passed, along with his other motion asking the province to allow the council to keep seats vacant if spots open up late in an election year.
  • Council adopted a movement of Frances Nunziata County (Ward 12, York South—Weston) to support the establishment of a Somali Community Culture and Recreation Center in Toronto.
  • Council approved the signing of a multiparty agreement to host 2026 FIFA World Cup matches. The costs are estimated at $300 million and will be shared between the provincial and federal governments.
  • The vacancy rate for municipal staff is high – 12.4%. Some advisers cited the availability of better paying jobs in the private sector as the reason. Tory said such a high vacancy rate means service suffers and residents feel like they’re not getting their money’s worth.

With files from Clarrie Feinstein

Ben Cohen is a reporter in Toronto for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @bcohenn

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