On December 20th, North Cowichan Council faced a pivotal decision prompted by a staff recommendation to accept a lease from Rogers Cellular for the installation of six 5G antennas on a water tower in the densely populated Eagle View Place neighbourhood.
Rogers’ proposal outlined the placement of antennas on a municipally-owned water tower, entailing a monthly lease fee of $3,333.33 for five years, with three automatic lease renewals. Despite the Rogers representative and Cllr. Istace invoking federal Code 6, which prohibits discussions on health effects and mandates deference to Health Canada, Safety Code 6 explicitly acknowledges the evolving nature of the scientific understanding surrounding 5G technology. Studies suggest potential links to DNA damage and cancer, prompting concerns in various communities, leading to legal battles to restrict antenna installations in sensitive areas like schools and neighbourhoods.
During the subsequent public hearing, neighbourhood representatives passionately expressed concerns about health implications, aesthetic considerations, and fears of decreasing property values. The residents presented a petition, boasting over 100 signatures from those in the water tower’s vicinity. Rogers’ application to North Cowichan required sending letters to potentially affected residents, yet these communications were criticized for neglecting negative aspects and offering vague justifications such as “better reception” and enhanced capability for handling “more 911 calls.” The community argued that Rogers acted questionably, distributing only a handful of letters during the busy Christmas season, containing small print and showcasing a picture from winter 2022.
COAP Inc. joined the effort, providing support and attempting to educate the council on Code 6 while emphasizing the acknowledged dangers associated with these short-range antennas, as admitted by Health Canada.
The council deliberated after thoroughly reviewing the petition. Cllr. Justice moved to deny Rogers’ application, asserting that the neighbourhood’s concerns warranted respect and recognition of their rights. Cllr. Justice emphasized the importance of neighbourhoods feeling empowered and stated that the council should stand behind the residents. In opposition, Cllr. Istace cited Federal Government directives, arguing against considering health implications and viewing the application as a valuable revenue source. However, Cllr. Justice’s motion prevailed. Council members, including Cllr. Findlay, stressed the importance of democracy and acting in the best interests of the neighbours. Cllr. Manhas changed his stance, acknowledging the impact of the petition and presentations. Cllr. Caljouw asserted that the council should consider both mental and physical health of residents. Mayor Douglas and Cllr. Toporowski concurred, resulting in a 5-1 vote against Rogers’ application.
This decision marked a small victory for the organized neighbourhood, illustrating the council’s consideration of citizens’ concerns. However, the context suggests that council decisions often favor well-to-do, retiree-filled neighbourhoods. The victory, though seemingly significant, may also reflect a ‘safe’ decision for the council, given the broader latitude granted to telecommunication companies in antenna placement. The outcome may inspire other neighbourhoods to unite against unwanted developments, but only time will reveal the extent to which councils genuinely heed citizen input.
– By A. Richards