A man covers his ears while passing honking trucks parked on Wellington Street this week. Photo by Tony Caldwell /Postmedia

The judge says, “Silence!”

Ontario Superior Court Justice Hugh McLean granted a temporary 10-day injunction Monday, banning the horn honking and air horn blowing that has echoed through downtown Ottawa since demonstrators arrived in the city on Jan. 28. The ongoing noisy protest has interfered with “citizens’ right to quiet,” he said.

“People have a right to protest various things in various ways,” McLean said. But he agreed with lawyer Paul Champ that the incessant noise could cause long-term and irreparable hearing damage.

“Tooting a horn is not an expression of any great thought,” McLean noted wryly, even allowing for the “potential artistic merit” of the truckers’ creative use of patterns and beats.

The injunction takes effect immediately. McLean also rejected the demonstrators’ request to blow their horns for five minutes once a day at 5 p.m. 

“The only purpose of this (horn blowing) is to bring attention to this protest,” McLean said. “There’s no need for that anymore. The public is fully aware of what’s going on.”

The plaintiff in the case is 21-year-old downtown resident, Zexi Li. In his evidence, Champ said Li has measured the noise in her apartment at more than 80 decibels, which he likened to “having a lawn mower running in her living room, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.” Others have registered noise at street level in excess of 120 decibels when so called “train horns” are sounded.

While Li is the only one named in the case, the $9.8-million class action is open to as many as 6,000 downtown residents who live in or close to the demonstration’s “red zone.”

“So happy!” Li texted this newspaper immediately after the judge’s decision. “Excited for 10 (hopeful) days of peace!!!”

Li agreed to stand as plaintiff out of frustration with the hands-off tactics adopted by the city and police during the first week of the demonstration.

“I live by the words, ‘I can make it through anything,’ ” Li said, before Monday’s hearing got underway. “But I know a lot of people aren’t able to and my heart just hurts the most for them.

“I’m not seeking confrontation, but I am seeking justice for the people they’re harming every single day they’re here. It’s confrontation out of necessity.”

Since her name became public, Li has been targeted and harassed, Champ told the hearing, which took place virtually over Zoom.

“My client is unbelievably brave,” he said. “My client has been subject to threats, to vile abuse online. Her phone number has been put online and people have been calling her.”

Li was asked by this newspaper if she had any regrets about taking part.

“Absolutely not. I am sick and tired of shedding tears for my neighbours. I’m sick and tired of hearing about how much fear there is in the streets,” she said.

“I’m utterly disappointed by the city’s reaction to what is going on. It took 10 days for any action to be taken. It took 10 days for our pleas to be heard. I can only hope that there will be more management of the situation from here on out,” she said.

“There is a peaceful way to protest. This is not it. They way they’re going about it delegitimizes their cause and, in fact, causes more irreparable harm to the people they say they’re trying to fight for. They really do need to recognize the damage their doing by being here and participating in it.”

The statement names as defendants the convoy’s organizers: Chris Barber of Swift Current, Sask., Benjamin Dichter of Toronto, Tamara Lich of Medicine Hat, Alta., and Patrick King of Red Deer, Alta. It also names 60 “John Does” — drivers of semi-trucks in the protest who may later be identified as having taken part in the noise-making.

Lawyer Keith Wilson of the Calgary-based Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedom, who represented three of the four named defendants, said the protest was a matter of free expression. Two of his three clients don’t have trucks and the third has not used his horn, he said.

“This is a spontaneous grassroots phenomena that started in Canada and is now spreading around the world in response to what we’ve all had to endure for the last two years. It’s an effort to end that harm and that hardship,” Wilson said.

He provided court with affidavits in support of the truckers.

“There is more evidence before you that downtown Ottawa residents don’t feel they’re being harmed and this is part of the democratic process,” Wilson told the judge.

Founded in 2010, Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms has taken on a wide range of conservative and right-wing causes. It’s representing the parents of an Ottawa school girl in a Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario hearing over gender identity teaching by the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board. In another, it’s suing the Nova Scotia Registrar of Vehicles after it denied a pensioner, Lorne Grabher, his “GRABHER” vanity plate, saying it was “socially unacceptable.” In 2017, the centre unsuccessfully fought a decision by the Ottawa Public Library to cancel a screening of the anti-immigration film, Killing Europe.

At the start of Monday’s hearing, McLean addressed the issue of a racist slur that was posted in the Zoom chat section during Saturday’s first hearing. McLean did not see the slur, but urged the lawyers who did to complain to the Crown attorney’s office so that it can be investigated for potential contempt of court charges.

The matter will be back in court on Feb. 16 when the temporary 10-day injunction expires.