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Quebec police probing 3 cellphone tower fires, possible link to conspiracy theory


MONTREAL — On Sunday, a small town north of Montreal felt it necessary to write a message on its Facebook page specifying that its cellphone tower did not have 5G capability in response to numerous questions from concerned citizens.

By 4 a.m. Monday morning, the tower in the town of Prevost, Que., was on fire. Twenty minutes earlier, authorities were called to another cellphone tower fire in the nearby community of Piedmont. Provincial police suspect foul play in both fires.

Those fires, about 70 kilometres north of Montreal, occurred after another cellphone tower caught fire early Friday morning in Montreal's northern suburb of Laval.

Mariepier Des Lauriers, spokeswoman for the town of Prevost, said that in recent weeks many residents had brought up unfounded conspiracy theories linking 5G cellphone technology to COVID-19. 5G is the fifth-generation technology standard for cellphone companies that is progressively being rolled out around the world.

"It's not the first time that people get alarmed by fake news or things they see on the internet," she said in an interview Monday.

False narratives around 5G and the coronavirus have been shared hundreds of thousands of times on social media. They vary widely from claims that the coronavirus is a coverup for 5G deployment to those who say new 5G installations have created the virus.

Some 50 fires targeting cell towers and other equipment have been reported in Britain this month, leading to three arrests. About 16 have been torched in the Netherlands, with attacks also reported in Ireland, Cyprus, and Belgium.

Jean-Francois Albert, director of the town of Piedmont, said he hasn't heard any concerns from locals about the safety of 5G technology. His town's cellphone tower is located on city property and used to be operated by Telus, but he said the town recently signed a new contract with Bell.

The tower is not 5G, however, he said in an interview Monday.

Prevost's tower is owned by Rogers but has Bell equipment on it. Both Albert and Des Lauriers said the towers in their towns sustained fire damage, but cell phone service was still operational in both towns.

In Laval, police spokeswoman Stephanie Beshara said Monday she didn't know if investigators had opened a criminal investigation into the fire. Media reports said Laval's fire department had initially claimed the tower had 5G capability, but they later corrected themselves and said it did not.

Police have no suspects in connection with the fires.

Provincial police spokesman Marc Tessier said investigators will be contacting Laval police to see if the fires Monday are connected to Friday's incident — and whether they are in any way tied to conspiracy theories about 5G technology and the novel coronavirus.

"All the different hypotheses are being looked at," Tessier said in an interview Monday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 4, 2020.

— With files from The Associated Press

Giuseppe Valiante, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said the tower in Prevost was operated by Bell.

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