British Columbia

Smart meter class action lawsuit against BC Hydro denied

A B.C. Supreme Court judge has rejected a bid by smart meter opponents to certify a class action lawsuit claiming B.C. Hydro's plans to install the controversial devices are a violation of personal liberty.

Judge says individual actions better suited to address complaints about controversial program

A B.C. Supreme Court judge has refused to certify a class action lawsuit against BC Hydro over the installation of smart meters. (CBC)

A B.C. Supreme Court judge has rejected a bid by smart meter opponents to certify a class action lawsuit claiming BC Hydro has installed the controversial devices in violation of personal liberty.

In a 36-page decision, Justice Elaine Adair found there was no way to test key issues raised in the case: whether exposure to smart meters causes biological effects and human harm; and if deciding not to have one on your dwelling is a "fundamental personal choice".

The judge also found a conflict between the groups of people affected by the outcome of the lawsuit, which was driven by the Coalition to Stop Smart Meters and the Citizens for Safe Technology Society.

"The plaintiffs and those who have supported the CSTS and the coalition believe passionately in their position," Adair wrote.

"However, for others, that position simply represents the triumph of groundless hysteria over good science and holds the prospect that BC Hydro's remaining customers will have to pay higher rates. Success for one group would result in failure for the others."

Privacy, health and economic concerns

The court ruling lays out the history of a program which began in 2010 with the enactment of the provincial Clean Energy Act, requiring BC Hydro to install smart meters by the end of 2012.

The wireless communication devices replaced so called "legacy meters". But they brought with them a host of concerns about privacy, health and rate increases.

Among the proposed plaintiffs in the class were several people who claim BC Hydro broke through padlocks to forcibly install smart meters.

Opponents argued that forcing people to have smart meters on their homes was a violation of Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees life, liberty and security of the person.

Among the proposed plaintiffs were a yoga teacher who feared the radio-frequency from the meters would interfere with the energy of her clients and an organic farmer who said that "as long as the jury is out" on biological impacts, she didn't want one of the devices on her farm.

Two others claimed BC Hydro broke through padlocked barriers to replace their old legacy meters.

In July 2013, the province introduced a program for residential customers to opt out of the smart meter program at a cost. The proposed class action claimed that was also in violation of the notion of personal choice.

'End of the plaintiffs' fight?'

BC Hydro argued that alleging the mere possibility of risk is not by itself enough to support a claim of a breach of Charter rights.

In reaching her decision, Adair relied on reports from BC Hydro's expert Dr. Benjamin Cotts.

He claimed drawing conclusions about the impacts of smart meters on an entire class of people would be virtually impossible because of the millions of different variables ranging from location to thickness of walls and placement of the meters.

In denying the class action, Adair left the door open to the individual plaintiffs to continue with their suits; she noted that Cotts suggested an assessment of the impact of a smart meter on an individual homeowner could be done.

Given the history of the fight against smart meters, the judge wrote, "I am not persuaded that refusing certification would mean the end of the plaintiffs' fight."

In a statement, BC Hydro said the company was pleased with the decision, which follows victories on the same issue at the BC Utilities Commission, the B.C. Court of Appeal and the BC Human Rights Tribunal.

"The smart metering program is an essential investment to help us modernize our electricity system," the corporation said.

"The new meters have improved our ability to manage British Columbia's electricity system and have helped us meet our customers' electricity needs by enabling tools that can help save energy and money."