if something huge and ugly and potentially carcinogenic were going to be installed in your neighbourhood, you'd want to organize your neighbours against it.
But a strange regulation lethargy means residents throughout the country are waking up to the fact that they're helpless in the face of invading cellular transmission towers.
It turns out that cellular communications are federally mandated as "essential services" -- a strange situation, since cellphones are a relatively recent addition to modern life. This means that neither provinces nor municipalities have jurisdiction over the mushrooming number of towers dotting the landscape.
Rather, the towers are the domain of Industry Canada, which establishes standards for electromagnetic radiation and requires phone companies to consult municipalities. And that's about it. There is no obligation under department regulations for municipal participation in decisions or for the notification of citizens.
Instead, government publications chirp cheerfully about Ottawa's "vision to make Canada the most connected country in the world," and the biz is largely left to its own devices.
Industry Canada's Carl Olsen says cell companies don't quite have a blank cheque. A town could turn them down, but the company could appeal to the federal minister. "The vast majority go through smoothly," he says.
And Laura Patel of Rogers says her company not only plays by the rules but goes out of its way to notify citizens, "not because we're required to but because we're good corporate citizens."
But in Chatsworth, near Owen Sound, Rogers-Cantel was a no-show at a community meeting to discuss the erection of a skeleton.
Chatsworth's Fred Miller arrived home from work one day to find his neighbour talking to a Rogers-Cantel engineer in his driveway. They were contemplating the site of a new tower not 150 feet from Miller's house.
Two days later, Miller's wife heard a scraping noise outside. When she went to look, "there was a guy standing next to my house with a shovel in his hand, digging right up against my foundation," Miller relates.
Naturally, Miller is furious that all this began without any consultation or permission.
But he was, in fact, lucky to have stumbled on the Rogers people. Some residents are not so fortunate, like those in Richmond Hill who woke up one morning recently and discovered a nearby structure.
Why, then, do municipalities not alert the public and set up hearings? After all, any proposed bylaw violation is subject to public approval, right? If you want to build, say, a condominium in an old warehouse or even install a basement apartment, you have to go to what's called the Committee of Adjustment, where any neighbours with objections are invited to voice their concerns.
Couldn't the same sort of review be set up to contest transmitter towers? And since politicians might be expected to side with constituents for the sake of political expediency, wouldn't they simply refuse permits to contentious projects?
The answer to both questions is that they cannot. As an employee at the city of Toronto planning department who wishes to remain nameless explains, "When you set up a review, you're assuming you have the right to say yes or no." That is, there is no point in the city setting up a committee to review a project if it has no juridical authority to stop it. The Planning Act has no jurisdiction over the telecommunications industry.
Steve Byrd, manager of the City of Toronto Telecommunications Project, says, "The city finds itself in an awkward place because, while we don't have the regulatory control on this that we do on other issues, when (a transmitter) goes in, the citizens turn to us.
"How do we deal with this when we seem to have little legislative authority?" *