Quebec police investigating cellphone tower fire as telecom industry worries about conspiracy vandalism


Originally Published by The Globe and Mail
Author: Alexandra Posadzki

Canada’s telecom industry is denouncing acts of vandalism against communications infrastructure as police investigate a blaze at a cellphone tower in Laval, Que.

The fire occurred in the wake of dozens of attacks on cell towers across Britain in recent weeks, which government officials have attributed to baseless conspiracy theories linking 5G wireless technology to the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“Any vandalism to critical infrastructure, including cell towers, is not only criminal, but is an extremely selfish act that puts Canadians at risk, especially during a pandemic,” a spokesperson for the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association said in a statement Friday.

“Our members remain focused on keeping Canadians connected, particularly at a time when Canadians are relying on telecommunication services more than ever.”

Police officers patrolling the Chomedey area in Laval spotted smoke coming from a cell tower shortly after 2 a.m. Friday. More than 20 people living nearby were evacuated from their homes because of the risk that the tower could collapse, said Stéphanie Beshara, a spokesperson for the Laval police. Ms. Beshara said it was too soon to say whether the fire was the result of criminal actions by anti-5G protesters.

Rogers Communications Inc., which owns the tower, said there has been no impact on its wireless service as a result of the fire.

“The safety of our teams, customers and communities is of the utmost importance to us and we are thankful no one was hurt,” Rogers spokeswoman Sarah Schmidt said in an e-mail. “We are working with local authorities as they investigate.”

Rogers had implemented enhanced safety measures on Thursday because of what the company described as general threats related to Canada’s critical infrastructure. As a safety precaution, the company’s technicians limited their work to only urgent network repairs.

There have been dozens of acts of vandalism and arson against cellphone masts and other telecom infrastructure in Europe recently, as the popularity of baseless conspiracy theories has grown. The theories – which claim that radio waves used for fifth-generation wireless technology either spread the coronavirus or weaken the immune system, thus making people more susceptible to COVID-19 – have been amplified by celebrities on social media, including singer Keri Hilson, British rapper MIA and actor Woody Harrelson.

Scientists and public-health authorities have said there is no evidence to support these claims, nor to suggest that 5G is harmful to human health.

“I don’t think Canada is immune to this global trend of misinformation,” said Sascha Segan, lead mobile analyst for technology publication PCMag. Mr. Segan added that the frequencies being used by Canadian carriers for their early 5G deployments have already been in use for decades. Rogers does not currently offer 5G service in Laval.

Telus Corp., which also had equipment on the tower, said it was able to use other infrastructure nearby to provide service to customers in the area.

“When vital communications infrastructure is destroyed by criminal acts, lives are put at risk by removing the ability for local citizens to call 911,” Telus spokesperson Erin Dermer said in an e-mail.

“Our networks are more important than ever during the COVID-19 crisis in enabling Canadians to stay connected to their jobs, schools, medical help, government services and loved ones.”

One telecom industry executive involved with security issues said he suspects anti-5G protesters were responsible for the vandalism. The Globe and Mail is not naming the executive because he is not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

The Laval fire department said on Twitter that damages are estimated to be in excess of $1-million and that suspicious items were found at the scene.

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