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A Royal Society of Canada expert panel is reviewing recent updates to Health Canada guidelines at the government’s request to ensure that they protect the public from the potential health effects of radio waves from wireless devices such as smartphones, tablets and cellphone towers.

An expert panel reviewing updates to Canadian safety guidelines for wireless devices heard from members of the public at a hearing Monday, including a group that accuses Health Canada of interfering with the process.

“I think the process is fundamentally flawed,” said Frank Clegg, CEO of Canadians for Safe Technology, at a news conference Monday, after addressing an expert panel of the Royal Society of Canada at an all-day public hearing in Ottawa.

The Royal Society’s expert panel is reviewing recent updates to Health Canada’s Safety Code 6 guidelines at the government’s request to ensure that they protect the public from the potential health effects of radio waves from wireless devices such as smartphones, tablets, Wi-Fi routers and cellphone towers.

Aside from the public hearing this week, the expert panel will be largely relying on the scientific literature when recommending to Health Canada whether changes should be made to Safety Code 6, said Royal Society spokesman Russel MacDonald. It will also be accepting written comments until the end of the week.

Health Canada accused of interference

Clegg, former president of Microsoft Canada, was among 35 people scheduled to speak in person or by videoconference at the public hearing.

At the news conference, Clegg accused Health Canada of not being open and transparent about the review process. His group has posted online documentation from Health Canada that includes suggestions for what kinds of experts should be on the expert panel and a list of questions to be addressed in the report, which are blacked out in the copy released under the Access to Information Act.

“In my opinion, they prove that there’s interference,” he said. “They do not allow the Royal Society to truly work on their own, independently.”

His group wants Health Canada to adopt lower exposure limits for radio frequency, citing lower limits in countries such as Switzerland, Italy, France, China and Russia. The group is lobbying on behalf of people who say they are highly sensitive to radio waves. It is asking Health Canada to acknowledge that their “electrosensitivity” exists and put in place a process to “receive and respond to reports of adverse reactions” to wireless devices.

On a website about its previous review in 1999, the Royal Society noted that the use of wireless devices has increased dramatically. It added that while the radio frequency fields used for communications devices are typically very low, such fields “can be hazardous at sufficiently high exposure levels,” as shown by their ability to heat food in a microwave oven.

The code applies only to federal employees and federally operated devices, but is also used by Industry Canada as a basis for its licensing agreements with telecommunications providers.

According to Health Canada, the guidelines were first published in 1979. They were most recently revised in 1999, when they were previously reviewed by the Royal Society, and in 2009.

The public hearing had previously been scheduled for July. However, the Royal Society announced at the end of June that it would be postponed due to “a large outpouring of interest in this event.”

Around that time, the Royal Society had also confirmed it had received comments about potential conflicts of interest affecting several members of the expert panel, and in July, the chair of the panel Daniel Krewski, had stepped down amid the accusations.

In September, the society announced a new chair, Paul Demers, director of the Cancer Care Ontario’s Occupational Cancer Research Centre and scientific director of Carex Canada, a workplace and environmental carcinogen surveillance program based at the University of British Columbia. The society also announced two new members of the panel to replace members who had left due to “family reasons and academic commitments.”