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Groups file class action suit over smart meters

Two anti-smart meter groups have filed a class action lawsuit against BC Hydro in an effort to end the installation of the devices in the homes of people who oppose them.

For two years, Sharon Noble of the Coalition to Stop Smart Meters said she's received "hundreds" of emails from people who say they were pressured by BC Hydro to replace their analog meters with the new wireless model and are now suffering health problems.

An Okanagan Valley customer alleges that BC Hydro cut off her power last week. According to a press release by the two groups, the woman, who suffers from electro-sensitivity, had had a smart meter installed against her will. (In January, BC Hydro announced it would not install smart meters against a customer's will.)

The press release alleges that after repeated attempts to get the corporation to remove it, the customer ordered a replacement analog meter from the United States, but BC Hydro said it didn't meet Canadian standards. The customer then found a Canadian meter that met the requirements, but the corporation insisted on the smart meter. Refusing, she had her power cut off, alleges the release.

Noble said the groups are protecting the identity of the woman, who is now seeking her own injunction against BC Hydro's action.

The class action lawsuit is seeking participants who have indicated to BC Hydro that they did not want a smart meter placed in their homes, yet one was, or will soon be, installed regardless.

"The way the smart meter program is being rolled out right now should be stopped," said the director of Citizens for Safe Technology, Una St. Clair. "It's not about the health of the people, it's about the health of the industry's pocket."

A BC Hydro spokesperson in charge of spokesperson was not available for a phone interview by press time, but a statement from the power generator authority said that smart meters have been proven safe and "are helping make substantial improvements to our electrical grid.

"Smart meters communicate using radio frequency signals similar to those used safely for decades in televisions, radios and other common household devices," the statement reads.

Noble explained the lawsuit is based on two premises: that the Open Access Transmission Tariff, which details how BC Hydro interacts with its customers, describes the rules and regulations around meters but not transmitters (a category under which the two groups classify smart meters); and a violation of the recently introduced intrusion upon seclusion law by the Ontario Supreme Court, which protects people's personal privacy. Noble claimed smart meters collect and transmit personal data in a way that violates this law.

The two groups announced the lawsuit Monday, and Noble couldn't say how many people had signed on yet.

"If a lawsuit does proceed, BC Hydro would work through the judicial process to present the facts about the new metering system," BC Hydro told The Tyee in a statement.

Nearly 30,000 people have signed Citizens for Safe Technology's petition calling for a moratorium on the smart meter program until the above conditions are met.

Noble wants a no-fee opt-out process introduced so that people have the choice whether or not to have smart meters in their homes, and those who have had them already installed may request they be removed.

She said the election influenced the timing of the lawsuit: "I want a commitment from Adrian Dix that he will change the Clean Energy Act so that no other family will face the threat of having their electricity turned off because they don't want radiation in their house."

Dix has said that, if elected, he will have the BC Utilities Commission review the smart meter program. The BC Greens promised in their platform to provide alternatives to those adversely affected by the wireless devices and to call a public inquiry into the smart meter program.

Natascia Lypny is completing a practicum at The Tyee.

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