Photo credit: Will Prentice licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

by Jan L. Mayes, MSc, Audiologist, Member, The Quiet Coalition

Imagine at the end of January, a convoy of honking trucks drove in and parked near your neighborhood homes, businesses, and public spaces. This honking protest against COVID-19 public health mandates continued 24/7 nonstop for over 10 days (along with fireworks and loud music). If you’ve been following the Canadian news, you’ll know this is exactly what a group of protestors did near Parliament Hill in the capital city of Ottawa. On social media, locals call it “The Honkening” and describe it as a blare of unholy noise. This protest noise carried on unchecked, despite a heavy police presence.

Following day after day and night after night of noise, residents of the downtown city core filed a $9.8 million (Cdn) class action lawsuit over the continuous vehicle horn noise, alleged to produce extremely loud sound energy of about 100 to 150 decibels. The suit names the convoy organizers, but can be extended to any truck driver identified as honking their horn.

The lawsuit recognizes the right to protest, noting “that many of the residents who live downtown and specifically around Parliament Hill are no strangers to political protests and understand the importance of freedom of association, assembly and expression, however they ‘have never experienced anything like the constant and excruciatingly loud horns of the defendants’ Freedom Convoy.’”

Meanwhile, Ottawa has declared a city-wide state of emergency. Police are issuing tickets, making arrests, and starting criminal investigations for mischief, theft, hate crimes, and property damage, while hundreds of trucks remain. GoFundME ended payments to the convoy organizers and refunded donors because the protest violated its rules on violence and harassment. It’s interesting that noise harassment and auditory assault by these protesters didn’t qualify for breaking the rules.

A lawyer representing the organizers suggested the protestors might consider not honking between 8:00 PM to 8:00 AM.

Instead, The Honkening has been silenced for now. A judge with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice granted a temporary 10-day injunction to stop the truck convoy noise. The judge said that while the participants have a right to protest, taking their horns away would not rob them of that right. During the court hearing, Justice Hugh McLean said, “[t]ooting a horn is not an expression of any great thought I’m aware of.”

Canadians on social media are also calling this the “Freedumb Convoy,” for targeting the Canadian federal government when the protested public health mandates are mainly set by provincial authorities or involve border crossing rules set by the U.S.

It’s unlikely the noise insanity will stop in Canada. And there are reports that organizers plan to start similar protests in Washington, D.C. and across the U.S. These honking truck convoy protests are already spreading to cities across Canada, including Vancouver, where I live. Last Saturday, the miles-long travel route, posted ahead of the weekly convoys, passed by residential neighborhoods and three hospitals, ignoring the welfare of our most noise-vulnerable citizens.

The right to peaceful protest shouldn’t include making noise loud enough to put public health at risk or causing noise that blocks spoken conversations and disability access, especially for infants to children, older adults, and anybody who already has hearing loss, tinnitus, or decreased sound tolerance like hyperacusis. This truck convoy legal case will likely have important implications for the public’s right to a quiet healthy home and community soundscapes versus noisy protests. It also raises questions about why enforcement is largely ignored for preventable harmful public noise exposure.