Nicole Williams 

February 26, 2022



Kevin uses one word to describe the first days of the protests in downtown Ottawa: torture.

“Literally there was trucks right underneath me,” said Kevin, who did not want to provide CBC a last name for fear of reprisal.  “It was one thing for me, but I’ve got animals. I’ve got three cats, two dogs. So yeah, it was torture.”

That “torture” is the reason behind an ongoing class-action lawsuit, which sought an injunction prohibiting any participants in the convoy protest from using vehicle horns in the vicinity of downtown Ottawa.

The trucks have since been removed, with police pushing the majority of protesters outside of the downtown core over the Family Day long weekend. Even still, some downtown residents say they’re haunted by “phantom honking” — what sounds like blaring truck horns, but no actual sounds are there.

“When you hear that noise, it’s like, ‘Oh, are they back? Is there a road convoy coming back, right?'” said Sean Flynn, who lives about three kilometres from downtown but could still hear the horns inside his home during the protests.

“‘I felt I was constantly doing these sort of double takes … it almost feels a bit re-traumatizing.”

Flynn isn’t alone. Downtown resident Zakir Virani said he hears phantom honking, too, usually at night, which keeps him awake.

“It’s hard to explain because I think with any post-traumatic stress-induced thinking, it’s not very rational. You’re not actually hearing honking,” he said, adding he experiences “constant on-edgeness” and “fear” any time he steps outside since the protests.

“It’s not good for anyone to feel that way.”

A ‘temporary’ symptom

Dr Peter Liu, an Ottawa-based clinical psychologist, said it’s possible people who hear phantom honking are experiencing a “mild trauma.”

“These sounds become sort of embedded in mind, kind of like the way trauma leads to flashbacks,” said Liu. “Even long after this has happened, the brain is still in a hyper-vigilant state and expects more honking.”

Liu said this is especially worrisome because it contributes to disrupted sleep. When people can’t sleep, it leads to anxiety and exhaustion, with the possibility of developing into depression or memory problems.

“It is temporary and it will always fade with time,” Liu said of the phantom honking. In the meantime, he recommended trying to sleep in a different location, even if it’s just in another room, listening to music, or putting on white noise before bed.

If the problem continues, he said people shouldn’t hesitate to reach out to a doctor or mental health professional.

c. CBC