SURREY — A homeowner who may be slapped with a $10,000 fine said he illegally cut down a tree known to be home to many peacocks out of desperation.
While a city official said they are taking the destruction of the Sulliavan Heights tree “very seriously,” Parm Brar said he felt he was out of options after pleading for three years with the city to do something about the birds.
Brar spoke to the Now-Leader outside his Sullivan Heights home Tuesday afternoon.
Since news broke of the tree being cut, Brar said people have been treating his family horribly. He claims one person gave his children the finger while they were playing outside.
While the Now-Leader stood outside Brar’s home Tuesday, a man yelled “heartless lowlife” from a vehicle as it passed by.
“I can see people getting upset if I haven’t tried anything,” said Brar, “if I just went and cut it down. Then I’m totally guilty. But if I tried for three years? I have videos, I have the city emails.”
Brar has lived in the home for about seven years, and he said before he bought the property, he had no idea it served as a home of sorts to the area’s peacocks. After that realization, Brar said he pleaded with the city for three years to do something about the bird population, to no avail.
Brar said dozens of birds came to the tree every night, leaving massive amounts of feces around his yard and in his gutters. He also says they made loud calls at all hours of the night.
— Amy Marie Reid (@amyreid87) May 2, 2018
“My kids can’t use the backyard,” he said, shortly after work crews had finished clearing the tree’s remnants away Tuesday afternoon, leaving just a stump visible.
Brar said his elderly father was hurt after he slipped and fell on peacock excrement in his entrance last year. He stressed that he’d never hurt any of the birds but says he desperately wanted his quality of life back.
Brar also claims someone is acting as a “caretaker” for the birds in the community, which he says he’s informed the city of.
“He won’t accept responsibility, he says they’re wild,” Brar added.
— Amy Marie Reid (@amyreid87) May 1, 2018
Councillor Mike Starchuk said he was familiar with the situation before the tree was cut down and that he visited the area to get a first-hand look at the issue.
“There was a petition that was presented to me, personally,” Starchuk told the Now-Leader Wednesday, noting it was sent a few months prior. “I took a drive through and I mean, gorgeous birds, but I’m very familiar with his property because he’d put this netting up all around to keep them off the gutter area. They’d been defecating everywhere.”
Starchuk said at one time, he saw 45 peacocks on an acreage behind Brar’s home. He said the city has been trying to figure out a solution, including the possibility of coming to agreement with the “caretaker” of the birds to relocate some or all of them.
“We were moving that way and I think the city was really close to having an understanding,” said Starchuk, who added the city is planning a “town hall meeting” with neighbours.
“Then this happened.”
Despite the tree coming down, Starchuk said the city will continue to work towards a solution.
“But we’re not there yet.”
This is the remnants of a tree that was cut down today, without a permit. You will notice that there are peacocks and peahen surrounding it. What you can't hear is their crying. Someone cut down their home. Without a permit. #SurreyBC @JohnHua pic.twitter.com/osSy3AR9lf
— Cindy Dalglish (@CindyDalglish) May 1, 2018
The tree’s destruction ruffled many feathers in the community – and around Surrey.
As more than a dozen peacocks wandered Sullivan streets on Tuesday morning, their cries rung out regularly as children walked to school. Locals say their calls (eeeiu!) were louder than normal, which they suspect was a show of anger or sadness about the tree.
“The peacocks have been in the neighbourhood ever since I can remember,” Remax realtor Brent Short, standing next to the dead tree Tuesday morning. “We did this subdivision 12 years ago and it’s just been part of the neighbourhood, part of the atmosphere. Nobody complained about them, you get the odd poop on your front lawn but it’s not a big deal. They’re just beautiful and it’s a sad day.”
Another local, school board candidate Cindy Dalglish, was furious the tree had been destroyed.
“It’s really frustrating that someone in our community feels such contempt toward such a beautiful animal.”
Dalglish, too, stressed that the peacocks were residents of the neighbourhood long before it developed into the residential area it is today.
In fact, she pointed to a Now-Leader story about a peacock nesting on a Sullivan Heights doorstep last summer.
“There was a farm owner who, when, the development was coming, took all of his animals except the peacocks. So the peacocks were here with the development,” she said.
“And you can hear them — they’re still very clearly vocal about what’s going on,” she said as cries rung out. “They are generally vocal in the neighbourhood and I can imagine there’s also a sore spot for this owner in that he’s dealing with droppings of the peacocks and whatnot. But at the end of the day he didn’t have a permit to cut down this tree and so we’re pretty upset not only that he’s taking their home away but that he did it without the approval from the city.”
Brar is not without his supporters.
A group of four men told the Now-Leader they all supported his move, saying they’re also disappointed the city hasn’t done anything about the birds.
TJ Shergill, who lives a few houses down from Brar, took the Now-Leader to his family’s yard, where several peacocks sat on the deck which was covered in feces.
“This is bad,” Shergill said, “but (Brar) had it worst with that tree…. His father got injured. Broken arm, 10 stitches on the face. You can imagine. A tree is not worth more than his father’s life.”
Meantime, Surrey’s bylaw manager Jas Rehal told the Now-Leader the tree, in the area of 149th Street and 62nd Avenue, was in fact illegally cut down and a $1,000 fine was issued on Monday night.
He added: “We are looking into further legal action against the property owner and the individuals that took the tree down, including looking at fines up to $10,000.”
Rehal said city staff are going to pursue “every legal means” it can.
According to Rehal, the owner of the property had been in contact with city hall for a “fair bit of time now, wanting to deal with the peacock issue.”
An application for a tree-cutting permit was denied by city hall, said Rehal.
“It was a very healthy tree and removal of it wasn’t going to take care of the peacock issue,” he said. “Taking down a big tree, it’s not something we want happening in the city. We’re going to take it very seriously.”
Dalglish called on the city to proceed with stiffer fines.
“A thousand dollar fine? Not cutting it for me,” she said. “I think the maximum fine is $120,000. You know, I don’t want to see him go bankrupt and lose his home over it but at the same time, I want there to be a precedent — that you just can’t come and along and cut nature out of our communities.”