Mayor Nancy Cooper and three Salmon Arm councillors are not on the same wavelength as several citizens who voiced their opposition Monday to Wi-Fi in city parks.
During council’s question-and-answer period, about 10 people voiced strong opposition to council’s Oct. 14 decision to enter an agreement with Shaw Cablesystems Limited to provide free Wi-Fi access in some city parks and facilities.
Cooper and Couns. Debbie Cannon, Chad Eliason and Denise Reimer had voted for the move, while Couns. Alan Harrison, Ken Jamieson and Marg Kentel were against it.
Prior to the questions, Jamieson referred to a letter from Shelley Corbin. She noted that on Oct. 6, council decided to hold a public meeting in January 2015 on cell tower siting, yet eight days later approved a deal with Shaw for Wi-Fi in parks.
Jamieson suggested council’s decision was hasty. He said citizens should be given the opportunity to speak their minds. He suggested a decision on free Wi-Fi in parks could be put on hold until after the meeting in January.
Harrison noted that for a motion to be reconsidered, it must be brought forward by someone on the prevailing side. Another option would have been for the mayor to bring it back within 30 days – but that deadline had passed.
City administrator Carl Bannister said the motion can’t be brought back as it has been acted on and the contract signed.
Jamieson wondered if it would be possible to ask Shaw to delay installation until after the meeting. Bannister said it would be possible to ask, but the January meeting is about cell phone towers, not Wi-Fi.
Eliason said he would find it hard to change the decision, given that Wi-Fi is already accessible in public parks – and throughout most of Salmon Arm. He said the agreement means people would save money on data.
Reimer and Cannon both said a process has been followed and council needs to stand by the contract.
Jamieson said he wasn’t suggesting breaking the contract, simply holding off on installation.
Kentel said she doesn’t necessarily agree with the decision, but asked what good waiting would do, as the outcome won’t change.
Cooper said the decision stands.
“We had a presentation from Shaw, a few weeks later staff came back with a contract, we discussed it at length, a decision was made. For myself, we’re not changing anything.”
Although the citizens who spoke at Monday’s meeting came to ask council to revisit its decision, Cooper told them that can’t happen. She told them to ask another question.
Ronn Boeur asked if the city would consider developing an ethical policy on corporate sponsorship, one which requires prior consultation with all affected parties.
Mike Testart said electro-magnetic radiation covers Wi-Fi and cell towers – “any kind of antenna that broadcasts any kind of a system.”
He emphasized there is something wrong with the political system when council votes and then citizens’ views are heard afterward.
Cooper said while she respects their concerns, she has confidence in Canada’s safety code 6 that regulates radiofrequency exposure.
Barbara Robinson asked if council members would re-educate themselves on safety code 6 and learn from those who are not in the industry.
Donalda McLaren asked if any consultation was done with people who live by the parks, or people with pacemakers.
“When you’re looking at safety code 6, it addresses thermal issues, not the biological issues. If you were to examine it from that statement, you will see where the discrepancy is and why our friends are getting ill.”
Lori Onsorge asked if council would put up signs warning that the parks contain a microwave base station.
“I don’t know when it became possible for council to corporatize parks and recreation centres without public consultation.”
Una St. Clair asked that a clause be put in the five-year contract allowing it to be cancelled if an increase in cancer-risk designation occurs. She left council a document to read, noting some doctors believe Health Canada is not protecting the public, that regulations are not strong enough and that emerging studies show significant health concerns.
Parks listed in the agreement with Shaw are: Blackburn Park, the Fall Fairgrounds, Klahani Park and Marine Peace Park. Facilities listed are: City of Salmon Arm, Little Mountain Sports Complex, SASCU Indoor Sports Complex, SASCU Recreation Centre and Shaw Centre.
Although the Shuswap Recreation Society already has an agreement with Shaw to provide Wi-Fi services at the sports complex at Little Mountain, at the SASCU Recreation Centre and at the Shaw Centre, that agreement allows only existing Shaw customers to access Wi-Fi through their accounts. The new agreement would extend the free service to all residents and visitors.