TORONTO – An Ontario government lawyer attacked the credibility of three star witnesses in a key legal challenge to the province’s new green energy legislation.
Sara Blake said Dr. Robert McMurtry and two other physicians, who cast doubt on the safety of wind turbines, are not reliable witnesses.
The three are named as experts in the case brought against the government by Prince Edward County property owner Ian Hanna. Hanna and his fellow anti-wind campaigners believe turbines emit low-frequency noise that lead to a range of health problems, including sleep deprivation, stress, chronic depression and even cardiovascular disease.
The case is the first major test of new regulations introduced in September 2009, four months after the province passed its Green Energy Legislation. According to those new rules, wind turbines will have to be placed a minimum of 550 meters from the nearest home.
That “setback” is at the centre of Monday’s court challenge.
Hanna and his backers say the government failed to fully examine the medical studies on the health affects of turbines. The government denies the claim.
Blake says McMurtry, an orthopedic surgeon and former medical school dean who also has advised the federal government on health policy, is neither an expert on the issue of noise emissions nor is he impartial.
He and the other two doctors cited in the court challenge all took an interest in wind turbines because they were being built near their homes, the prosecutor said. (McMurtry, who is the brother of former Ontario chief justice and attorney general Roy McMurtry, owns property in Prince Edward County and is the founding member of an anti-wind group there).
Blake said McMurtry expresses opinions in a deposition that he is not qualified to give.
“This is pure advocacy,” she told a three-member panel at Osgoode Hall in Toronto Monday. “He is not an expert … It is the belief of a passionate person.”
She also cast aspersions on the study of Dr. Michael Nissenbaum, who concluded people living within 1.1 kilometres of a wind farm in Maine suffered numerous health affects, including hearing problems, increased psychiatric symptoms and overall increased use of prescription medication.
The study is not published and is not peer reviewed, she said.
Eric Gillespie, the lawyer for Hanna and the anti-wind advocacy group behind him, contends that the rule placing turbines 550 meters from the nearest house was made without sufficient scientific evidence.
But under questioning from the three judges hearing the case, Gillespie acknowledged the science is inconclusive on the health effects of turbines.
He also takes issue with the fact that a planning expert – and not a public health expert – reviewed the science on the impacts of turbines.
“On a matter of human health it is not enough to have a land use planner say we considered it,” he said in court.
Gillespie also withdrew a request for an injunction on all new wind farms in Ontario. He is asking the court to strike down regulations laying out the 550-meter setback. It is unclear what sort of temporary regulations would emerge if he is successful in the request.
It is unknown when – if at all – the court will issue a decision on Monday’s one-day hearing.
While the three judges listened to arguments, they are also considering an argument by the attorney general that the case should be sent to an environmental tribunal.
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