The Lost and Found parrot: your legal obligations

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The Lost and Found parrot: your legal obligations

Messagepar Jojo » Dim Oct 28, 2012 4:14 pm

By Stéphanie Cloutier, Lawyer

Have you ever wondered what you would do if on a fine morning, you found the parrot of your dreams perched on your balcony? Once this adorable bundle of feathers has been fed, watered and put in a safe place, what would you do? Obviously, morality would dictate that you start looking for its legitimate owner. But, what if you turned a deaf ear to the voice of ethics on that very day and chose to keep your find? Besides the moral responsibility, did you know that you are LEGALLY bound to look for the legitimate owner of your found parrot? YES indeed you are!

Note: This paper is based on the statutes and case laws in use in the province of Québec; it does not reflect the legal system of other Canadian provinces.

According to Quebec’s law, any domestic animal is considered no less than a moveable effect, in the same way a jewel, a TV set or a wallet are. In case of loss, the provisions set out in clauses 939 to 946 of the Civil Code of Quebec apply.
First of all, the rule stated in clause 940 is clear and unequivocal:

“The finder of a thing shall attempt to find its owner; if he finds him, he shall return it to him”.

Is there any limit to this obligation? At some point you could legitimately claim ownership of the found parrot, provided you fulfill some procedures and after a certain period of time during which the legitimate owner can reclaim his property. Nothing, in this case the found parrot, can be acquired in bad faith through completion of an agreed period. In other words, you have to make public the finding of the bird in your possession. That is, if you find a parrot, you cannot keep it secret, whether or not you’d like to avoid being retraced by its legitimate owner. It’s quite the contrary actually: you are legally obligated to publish your find and you cannot merely peruse the wanted ads on your own. Clause 941 describes the various steps you must take in order to try and find the legitimate owner [1]:

1) Contact your local SPCA and/or any relevant organisation, such as Perroquet Secours, to notify them that you have found a parrot;

2) Post several found notices on street poles, in merchants’ stores and animal clinics of the municipality in whose territory the parrot was found;

3) Publish a found notice in the local newspaper or in classified websites (such as lespacs, Kijiji, Craig’s list);

4) Contact a peace officer. This last option applies only if you have reasons to believe that the parrot you have found could have something to do with a criminal investigation, like in the case of a robbery.

Once you’ve taken any one of these steps, you still won’t become the genuine owner of said parrot before a very, very long time. According to Clause 2919 of the Civil Code of Quebec: “The possessor in good faith of movable property acquires the ownership of it by three years running from the dispossession of the owner”. In other words, if the owner shows up during that three-year period, you’ll have to hand the parrot over. In return, you can ask the owner to reimburse you for all the expenses incurred while keeping the parrot, such as food, veterinarian fees, and so on.

If you choose not to keep the parrot, the law allows you to dispose of it before the end of the three-year period, even if you’re not its real owner yet. But beware! You cannot sell the parrot, nor give it away before the end of a reasonable period of time after having found it, in order to give its legitimate owner full opportunity to retrace you. Unfortunately, they are few court judgements to help accurately define the duration of a “reasonable period” in such case. Nevertheless, in light of Justice Gosselin’s comments in his ruling of Perreault vs. Société pour la prévention contre la cruauté envers les animaux (SPCA) de l’Ouest du Québec inc., 2006 QCCQ 6770 (CanLII), it would seem appropriate to suggest a 60-day waiting time before considering to dispose of the found parrot.

It is also important to note that after the bird is given or sold to a third party, its legitimate owner losses any and all future privilege to claim it. At best, the owner has three years after losing his bird to claim an amount equal to the sale’s price (minus living and disposition expenses), unless the new owner freely agrees to return the parrot to him. Despite this, should the legitimate owner contact you at any time, you are obliged to give him the name and address of the person to whom the parrot was given or sold.

In conclusion, be aware that infringing these clauses of the Civil Code of Québec exposes you to legal action, and you could end up being condemned to pay material, moral and punitive damages that can easily reach several thousands of dollars. Do you really wish to take that risk? You most certainly did a good deed when you took in that lost and distressed parrot. If you are ever tempted to keep the bird, remember this: “A movable that is lost […] continues to belong to its owner”. (Clause 939 CCQ). If that is not enough, please consider that somewhere in a house closer that you’d think, someone in tears desperately awaits the return of his or her cherished companion.

[1] If you do not wish to adopt the parrot you’ve found or to sell it for profit, you can bring it to your local SPCA or a relevant organization like Perroquet Secours; these organizations will take care of the bird and look for its legitimate owner. This way, you fulfill all your legal obligations.

Stéphanie Cloutier, Lawyer
Présidente Perroquetsecours

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