B.C. Human Rights Tribunal slammed for hearing complaint about wireless electrical meter’s health effects

(Canadian Press photo)

The image of Canada's human rights tribunals has taken hits over the years for giving an ear to what critics often dismiss as frivolous complaints.

These quasi-judicial bodies have done a lot of good over the years, defending people against discrimination based on race, religion or sexual orientation.

But you can see the eye-rolling by their critics now over the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal's decision to hear Una St. Clair's complaint against B.C. Hydro over the alleged damage a new smart meter is doing to her health.

St. Clair heads something called Citizens for Safe Technology, which campaigns against the encroachment of wireless technologies.

St. Clair claims to suffer from electromagnetic sensitivity, which she says leaves sufferers feeling ill when they're exposed to devices such as cellular phones, Wi-Fi hotspots and now the wireless electrical meters the Crown-owned utility is installing in homes and businesses.

St. Clair says "microwave environments" trigger in her an array of symptoms, including migraine headaches, dizziness, heart palpitations and insomnia.

"I feel terrible in a Wi-Fi environment," St. Clair told the Vancouver Province.

[ Related: No end to debate over Wi-Fi health effects as Toronto doctor treats hypersensitive patients ]

The tribunal has agreed to hear her group's complaint against smart-meter installation on condition it narrows down the types of medical problems claimed to be caused by the devices. St. Clair said they'll limit the case only to those diagnosed with electrosensitivity — about 100 people.

"When smart meters came on the scene in the spring of 2011, we started to hear from members saying we can't have this on our house," St. Clair told the Province. "They had eliminated wireless devices from their homes and then to be forced to be exposed to something that made their home unsafe was frightening."

B.C. Hydro staunchly denies smart meters, which transmit low-power bursts of data to the utility for a few seconds each day, cause any health problems. It cites authorities including the World Health Organization, Health Canada and the B.C. provincial health officer.

A Health Canada study concluded that while the symptoms themselves are real, scientific studies so far haven't made a connection to the presence of electromagnetic fields.

National Post columnist Jonathan Kay smacked down the tribunal for wasting taxpayer dollars investigating St. Clair's dubious claims.

"It is, of course, every citizen's rights to believe whatever fairy tales he or she likes," he wrote. "But it is another thing for the propagation of such nonsense to become a matter of 'human rights' in this country. And that is exactly what is happening in British Columbia."

[ Related: Ontario Catholic teachers' union calls for ban on Wi-Fi in schools ]

Electrosensitivity is a made-up condition, Kay contends, citing a series of British studies in 2005 that found no evidence that those claiming to suffer from the ailment actually had higher sensitivity to electromagnetic fields.

Psychiatrist G. James Rubin, who was involved in the 2005 studies at King's College, London, suggested in a paper that the root of electrosensitivity is psychological. Sufferers may have experienced symptoms such as a headache while using a mobile phone, then drawing a direct cause-effect connection.

"A vicious circle of anxiety, expectations and symptoms can then develop, eventually leading to a belief that one is sensitive to mobile phones and perhaps to other electrical devices as well," Rubin wrote.

Kay said if St. Clair's complaint were filed in civil court it would be tossed out, with the plaintiff bearing the legal costs.

"But B.C.'s human-rights apparatus doesn't work like that: Plaintiffs don't need to ante up, and the state does the heavy lifting in regards to litigation and investigation," he wrote.