When Coun. Sandra O’Connor decided to introduce a motion to council regarding 5G technology three weeks ago, she didn’t expect it to be controversial.
She certainly didn’t think Coun. Wendy Cheropita, who introduced the “context for the motion,” to be the subject of a public attack in the media.
There was a discussion, and a vote on O’Connor’s motion, which was simply to endorse the motion from the City of Niagara Falls, which was included in the Nov. 19 information package before council.
Niagara Falls councillors voted recently to ask their city staff to reach out to other municipalities that have introduced 5G, and report back with information about the new technology.
The Niagara-on-the-Lake vote was tied amongst councillors, Lord Mayor Betty Disero breaking the tie with a vote against it.
The Niagara Falls motion had passed with only one dissenting vote, and also endorsed inviting a Health Canada representative to come to the municipality to discuss the fifth generation of wireless communications.
Health Canada has approved 5G service.
O’Connor says she and Cheropita had both been approached by NOTL residents who said they are concerned about the technology, and had decided to bring that concern to council.
“The Niagara Falls motion was in the information report. It seemed a good opportunity for us to look at the 5G issue, in light of the Niagara Falls request. It was asking Niagara municipalities to have the same consultation on the placement of 5G, which is a much smaller antenna, and can be placed on a telephone pole, or a building. It doesn’t need a big tower, so let’s talk about where it will be placed.”
Cheropita introduced the issue as a lead-up to the motion, says O’Conner. “We just wanted to address residents’ concerns. Wendy paved the way with the context of this motion. She was painting the picture of how we could move forward. I didn’t expect it to be controversial, and I don’t know why Wendy got so much flak for it,” she says. “It was no big deal. The motion was defeated. That’s democracy, and now we move on.”
The criticism of Cheropita in the media over buying into debunked conspiracy theories was unwarranted, she adds. “Yes, there are conspiracy theories, like 5G causing COVID. That’s not what this was.”
The personal attack on Cheropita, she says, is the type of journalism that adds to “the erosion of trust of the media.”
Cheropita says there have been “insulting, angry, vile emails” sent to the Town, from people who believe she is spreading conspiracy theories against 5G technology, while she has received more than 30 letters of support from residents.
When she spoke at council three weeks ago, she says she wasn’t “taking a position” for or against the new technology, but was simply laying out a reason for the municipality to look into it, as Niagara Falls is.
She believes she was taking a “responsible approach” to representing residents’ concerns.
While she acknowledges there are scientists who think 5G is safe, there are also some who don’t.
“I was saying if there are health concerns, let’s as a council do our due diligence. That was all we were trying to do,” says Cheropita.
Other councillors said they accepted the science that supports the safety of 5G technology, and that it is not a municipal issue to investigate. The Town has already signed a deal with Telus for 5G services.
Calling the council discussion “civil,” Coun. Allan Bisback says he voted against it because the technology is regulated by Health Canada, and is not within the municipal jurisdiction.
He was also concerned about giving staff more to do, when there are already many issues on their plate.
“I wasn’t trying to take a position contrary to Coun Cheropita. I just didn’t think it was appropriate to send staff down this road.”
Bisback said the discussion began as support for the Niagara Falls motion, “but it got off on a tangent. I’m not suggesting it’s not important, it’s just not something to ask staff to investigate. It’s not a municipal issue.”
However, he added, differing opinions is what council discussions are all about. “We can agree to disagree.”
Cheropita says her intention was not to take a stand for or against the technology. “I was just representing constituents’ concerns. I ran for council with political idealism, wanting to make a difference, to do the right thing, to listen to people. When I do that, I’m doing my job.”
The personal attack on her in the media recently was “an example of why the public is losing trust in traditional media, why that trust is eroding.”
Cheropita says she supports honest, open dialogue, not journalism that “creates anger, and causes divisiveness. This is a small, unbelievable community of wonderful people, who deserve to have their concerns represented.”