By Joel Ceausu
Veronique Riopel doesn’t think there’s anything smart about Hydro Quebec’s new wireless meters.
“We should have the right to choose” said Riopel, who suffers from a brutal combination of conditions including chemical, environmental and electromagnetic hypersensitivity. “If they install this on my home, I will lose my home or get very, very sick. I will have to live in my car.”
The public utility began rolling out its new smart meters across the regions over the last few months, and the Laval resident is behind a mounting local effort to keep them out. Hydro-Quebec is notifying people that their analog meters will be changed to wireless versions, which will reduce labour costs and increase accuracy. Those not wanting the wireless version can opt for another new meter – non communicating but still reportedly emitting signals – and with an installation and servicing fee.
Riopel’s journey began in 2004, when straight out of university, working as a full-time physiotherapist and tennis instructor, she suffered a devastating pesticide poisoning. Her immune system responded ferociously and she became so sensitive that it reacted to most everything in her immediate environment including electromagnetic fields. “The moment I turned on a microwave or cellphone, I was hit with a lot of symptoms – tingling in my hands, shocks in my head, dizziness, blurred vision, even paralysis. The moment they turned off I was perfect.”
The Chomedey resident told The Suburban that her health continued to waver, her blood pressure dropping to dangerously low levels, and spiking to the point that her eyes were filled with blood from popped vessels. She and her mother Francine Lajoie went into isolation for two months, living with as little electricity as possible in a pesticide-free jurisdiction so she could make it through the day.
Referred by local doctors to an Ontario specialist, she began a painstaking road to recovery. What struck her the most in 2006 was when after a long recovery period, she suddenly became paralyzed from the waist down. Upon investigation, she discovered cell tower had been installed some 400 metres from her home. “I never slept another night in the apartment; that’s all it took. What is hard is when you are sick, you are sick. But when you get better, then crash that hard? So many people are suffering as I do, and we have to help them. It’s just a hydro meter and it can be so harmful to so many people.” Riopel’s pleas to the utility explaining her condition were met with a response only that pending a different decision by the energy board that her meter would be changed before 2017.
She and Lajoie are no luddites, vying to turn back the clock on the 21s century. “No,” says Lajoie. “We want people to be able to choose. These smart meters that Hydro-Québec wants to install are being rejected around Montreal across Quebec, Canada and the U.S.” The issue has struck such a chord in Laval that their movement Laval Refuse, is attracting a lot of attention: their blog gains hundreds of new followers every week, they distribute thousands of flyers, and field 5-6 hours’ worth of phone calls each day.
Last week, some 200 people showed up at an information meeting at College Létendre.
“People have so many questions,” says Riopel, who was pleased yet surprised by the reaction. She also made an impactful presentation when she told her story on TVA’s Denis Lévesque broadcast. “What we’re telling people is to send a letter of non-consent to Hydro Quebec, explaining that they want to keep their analog meter, and place a sign on their current meter explaining their position,” says Lajoie. “Our meters still work perfectly, so why change them?” She says there is more to this than billing accuracy, and their website quotes at least one Hydro Quebec union official who believes it’s all part of a ploy to cut 1,000 jobs and increase revenue by introducing staggered electricity rates. “There are a lot of issues here,” says Riopel, “We know of many people that informed Hydro months ago that they want to keep their analog meters and don’t consent to the change. They still have them and there has been no issue, yet.”
For their part, Hydro-Québec counters that the signals emitted from the meters are a pittance compared to that of a microwave or cellphone, well within allowable safety standards, a position echoed by Health Canada. But the jury is not out, since symptomatic phenomena is growing worldwide as society is saturated with technology, and people with compromised health and extreme sensitivity, like Riopel, are concerned. “There are too many people who have reported immediate symptoms following installation, from Maine to California, and from Michigan to Vancouver.
Wants municipal support
While the province’s energy board gave Hydro the go-ahead last fall for this, there doesn’t seem to be much movement on the part of elected officials to get involved, whether the issue is health or simply freedom of choice. “We spoke with all the Laval MNAs” said Riopel. “Leo Bureau-Blouin received and read our petition which had more than 17,000 names on it, and it was passed along to [Minister of Natural Resources Martine Ouellet], but we don’t think we will hear back from her before the summer break.”
Lajoie wants to see support from her municipality. “We want them to say ‘We will stand behind our residents, we support them,’ then that can have a big impact, regardless of jurisdiction. That’s a concern, because Hydro Quebec is acting very, very fast on this.” To date, she has seen no support from anyone on council, save for a request for more information. “But our mayor will do nothing. Meanwhile other cities have said they will stand by their citizens and support them, 15 in Quebec so far, including the latest one Dorval.” Riopel says Magog stopped the implantation of the meters from their local utility, and jurisdictions in Maine, Vermont, Michigan, Vancouver and California are leading successful challenges to the implementation of these wireless meters.
Riopel is clearly battle-weary but feels she has no choice but to fight for her own health and peace of mind. “I came so far and now they are telling me that the choice I have is either a smart meter and become sick or I lose my home. All these people who come to our meetings, who all ask me for a safe place to park their car for a few hours’ refuge from encroaching electromagnetic fields, to think that they have no choice in this but to get sick? That’s unacceptable.”
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