HomeDomesticRefugee advocates worried about impact of fighter jet flyby at Redblacks game

Refugee advocates worried about impact of fighter jet flyby at Redblacks game

It took Olha Kinash about a month to get used to planes flying overhead again.

Kinash was in Kyiv when Russian forces invaded Ukraine and began bombarding the nation’s capital. She and her family fled as fast as they could, settling in Ottawa in late April.

She’s now one of several people voicing concerns about the triggering effects of tonight’s fighter jet flyby ahead of the Ottawa Redblacks’ home opener.

“I would say I’m pretty self-confident … but it took me over a month to realize I’m safe now and nobody will bomb me,” said Kinash, who now lives not far from the airport.

“[That] made it even worse, because I heard aircraft flying every day. It was stressful.”

Shortly before the 7:30 p.m. ET kickoff, two CF-18 fighter jets with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) will pass over TD Place. They’ll fly at an altitude no lower than 150 metres above their overall route’s highest point, according to the Department of National Defence.

“The RCAF is proud to participate in national sporting events such as this, which allow us to demonstrate to Canadians the capabilities of our personnel and aircraft,” wrote public affairs officer David Lavallee in an email to CBC.

“Certainly, the RCAF doesn’t want to disturb anyone, but we conduct these flybys at the request of event organizers as a tribute to and show of respect for the event in question.”

Lavallee said information about the flyby was posted on social media and sent to local news outlets Thursday morning as per the “standard procedure” for informing residents.

While flybys are “carefully planned and closely controlled for public safety,” as Lavallee wrote, they’ve been shown to be traumatizing — particularly for people who are sensitive to loud noises or who’ve spent time in conflict zones.

Apology in 2015

One flyby over TD Place and the surrounding neighbourhoods in 2015 scared many people, leading to an apology from the RCAF for the lack of notification. A more recent one, held after last month’s destructive derecho storm, caused several residents to contact CBC.

Flybys can trigger PTSD symptoms in people who’ve experienced war, said Ivan Pityk, a registered psychotherapist (qualifying) and the head of Ottawa Ukrainian Mental Health, which offers support to those who’ve fled the Russian invasion.

“It may bring them back to the very stressful and traumatic events that happened back home,” said Pityk. “This does seem very real to them — they are brought back in that moment, back to Ukraine.”

Still, people can “ground themselves” by breathing deeply and reminding themselves they’re safe in Canada, Pityk said. They should also reach out to family and other mental health supports if they feel particularly stressed, he said.

And it’s not just fighter jets that can trigger that response: Pityk said people can have intense reactions to any planes soaring past, including commercial airliners.

Ottawa Redblacks fans walk through Lansdowne Park ahead of a game last August. The fighter jet flyby is scheduled to take place just before tonight’s game against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC)

Perhaps worth postponing?

While there isn’t specific research on PTSD and flybys, anecdotal evidence suggests they do cause symptoms to erupt, said Fardous Hosseiny, president and CEO of the Ottawa-based Atlas Institute for Veterans and Families.

Ideally, people nearby would be notified more than a week in advance, Hosseiny said, so that anyone with mental health distress can prepare. It’s also worth considering if flybys are worth holding at all, he added, amid a large resettlement of refugees.

“I think you have to have a conversation — what’s the value added with these events?” Hosseiny said. “There’s a lot of folks coming in right now who’ve left conflict situations and are struggling … what can we do as a collective to make their transition easier?”

For Kinash, while she feels she should be all right, others may be more sensitive to the noise — although Ukraine’s long history of conflict may actually offer some protection.

“To be honest, Ukrainians [come from] a very strong nation,” she said. “We’ve been fighting for our freedom for hundreds of years.”

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