You expect lawyers to defend their clients. But shouldn’t a government lawyer always act in the public interest?
November 29, 2018
Last Friday in Toronto, the appeal against the Renewable Energy Approval for the “Nation Rise” wind power project—an appeal launched and funded by the community—heard closing arguments from the citizens’ group appealing the approval, the multi-billion-dollar Portuguese wind power developer, and the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks.
The latter was represented by Ottawa-based lawyer Paul McCulloch. His job is to defend the Wynne government’s hasty approval of the 100-megawatt power project, south of Ottawa.
Question: Should a government lawyer not be also responsible for defending the residents of North Stormont from the adverse effects caused by a wind power project?
What happened though, was that Mr. McCulloch made astonishing comments in response to evidence brought forward on the risk to human health.
Mr. McCulloch alleged that “no” wind power project has ever been tested and found out of compliance in Ontario. This is patently false. To name just one example, the Unifor turbine in Port Elgin has resulted in hundreds of noise reports, it was found out of compliance and is now under a power reduction order and noise abatement plan (though noise complaints have not stopped).
Similarly, there were many noise reports for the Melancthon wind power project between 2006 and 2009, that the environment ministry did inspections and testing and concluded “the sound discharged into the natural environment from the wind turbines would cause an adverse effect.” * The company was ordered to reduce noise levels, and remodel several of the turbines; when that was not entirely successful, the ministry further worked with the operator to employ a noise abatement plan and in 2011, implemented a “noise reduced operating plan” according to a ministry report obtained under Freedom of Information request by Wind Concerns Ontario.
So, yes, turbines have been found out of compliance and abatement orders issued; the reality is, many others are caught up in a seemingly endless round of audible noise testing through a flawed protocol.
Mr. McCulloch also dismissed government records of complaints from residents presented by Wind Concerns Ontario as evidence of problems and especially adverse effects from wind turbine emissions, saying no conclusions can be drawn from self-reported complaints. However, “assessment” of noise/adverse effects complaints has not been a requirement of the process, so there would not be such records of medical opinions. And the ministry doesn’t follow up on reports of adverse effects, or even refer them to the Ministry of Health. The MOECC (now MECP) also does not collect information on academic credentials of the people as part of the complaint tracking process. The reality is, trained healthcare and medical professionals are among those who have filed complaints about the impact of wind turbines on their health, and others have had their assessments confirmed by healthcare professionals.
Government lawyer Mr. McCulloch, however, essentially stated that unless people registering complaints with the MECP provide medical proof, their reports are of no consequence. Does this mean that the thousands of provincial records of noise complaints are meaningless? That adverse health effects being reported to government are ignored? That is a terrible message for the people of rural Ontario.
Mr. McCulloch’s comments may also have undermined a community health investigation being carried out at the request of Huron County citizens, funded by Ontario taxpayers. The investigation was initiated by public health officials in the Huron County Health Unit in response to clusters of health complaints related to wind turbines. It is being carried out under authority of the Ontario Health Promotion and Protection Act.
But now, is all hope for this project dashed? At the hands of a government lawyer? Mr. McCulloch, a public servant, demeaned the investigation process and criticized the fact that it relied on information solicited from “volunteers.” By “volunteers” he meant Ontario citizens, the same citizens who have been dutifully filing complaints with the environment ministry since 2006, with little or no action.
Contrary to Mr. McCulloch’s remarks on the methodology in the investigation, it is modeled on the Health Canada community study, and received ethics approval from a university. Various challenges in the community (non-disclosure clauses in wind turbine lease agreements, distrust of more “study,” and despair at the lack of government action) have led to a lower participation level than expected by the investigating health professionals.
In recent weeks, the Medical Officer of Health and the staff epidemiologist have been in the media, renewing invitations for citizens to participate.
Who will participate in that important ongoing community health project now? Speaking apparently on behalf of the government, lawyer McCulloch essentially said any results will mean nothing to the MECP.
The lawyer also told the Tribunal that current Ontario setbacks and noise limits reflect the “consensus view” of the impact of wind turbines on health. That statement purposely ignores a report prepared by the Council of Canadian Academies for the federal government that demonstrated the basic measurement tool Ontario uses to assess wind turbine noise is inadequate, as well as the report issued by the Australian Senate Select Committee on Wind Turbine Noise, and recent announcements from the World Health Organization recommending a more stringent noise standard for wind turbines in Europe than is used in Ontario.
Mr. McCulloch’s statements to the Environment Review Tribunal were misleading.
The environment ministry should clarify his remarks immediately, in order for the Tribunal to be informed with the truth.
WIND CONCERNS ONTARIO
*Master Incident Report 7465-8KCC68, pages 2-3
For information on the Huron County community investigation: https://www.huronhealthunit.ca/reports-and-statistics/investigations/wind-turbine-study/