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Fireworks Can Traumatize Refugees, Veterans With PTSD, Says Saskatoon Councillor

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A Saskatoon city councillor has drawn ire online after suggesting that fireworks traumatize refugees.

Coun. Pat Lorje tweeted on Saturday that she enjoyed the city's light show, but hoped Syrian refugees had been notified that the loud noises weren't coming from weapons.

Her remark drew a lot of negative reactions, including Twitter users who called it "insensitive," "a sick joke" and "awkward."

A few went even further, dubbing her "the Donald Trump of Saskatoon" and an "insensitive POS."

Lorje seemed confused by the response, saying she was alluding to the fact that fireworks can trigger anxiety among people with post-traumatic stress disorder, such as soldiers and those who have lived through war.

User Jenny S. Ryan responded to that tweet by pointing out Lorje appeared to be generalizing about how a group of people might react.

She wrote: "More appropriate approach perhaps: A reminder that u may hear very loud explosions tonite as there is a fireworks festival in #yxe."

The executive director of the Saskatoon Open Door Society, which works with immigrants and refugees, told CTV Saskatoon that the group informs its members about any planned fireworks shows.

Ali Abukar said he hasn't received any complaints about this year's spectacle, but understands that it could upset those with PTSD.

“People who have those conditions, whether they’re refugees or not, they would be triggered with those kind of noises or anything that can remind people something similar to the trauma that they had,” Abukar told the outlet.

However, he was careful to say that not all refugees deal with the disorder.

fireworks
Fireworks set off from the Canadian side light up the sky over Niagara Falls. (Photo: Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images)

“People who have those conditions, whether they’re refugees or not, they would be triggered with those kind of noises or anything that can remind people something similar to the trauma that they had,” Abukar said.

In the U.S., signs popped up on lawns last year ahead of Fourth of July celebrations as a reminder that the light shows can trigger veterans, according to the Washington Post.

“Combat veteran lives here, please be courteous with fireworks," the signs read.

Shawn Gourley, who co-founded the non-profit group Military with PTSD, told the Post that it's the unexpected pyrotechnics, not the planned Fourth of July shows, that are a problem for veterans.

toronto air showThe Breitling Jet team performs at the Canadian International Air Show in Toronto on Sept. 3. (Photo: Louis Nastro/Reuters)

Another, even louder Canadian tradition has sparked a similar debate lately.

The Canadian International Air Show, which takes place in Toronto every Labour Day weekend, has prompted questions over whether noisy warplanes flying low over the city could traumatize refugees.

In a blog for The Huffington Post Canada, Craig Damian Smith pointed out that many immigrants live in the city's Parkdale neighbourhood, which is right next to the Canadian National Exhibition grounds and waterfront where the planes fly over.

"While some obviously see aircraft as entertainment, people in war zones have a far more traumatic relationship to them," he wrote.

"I am sickened by the notion that children with acute PTSD will face three days of harassment in their place of refuge."

A Change.org petition was started, calling on Toronto Mayor John Tory to stop the air show.

"I am sickened by the notion that children with acute PTSD will face three days of harassment in their place of refuge."
— Blogger Craig Damian Smith

Toronto filmmaker Maya Bastian was in Parkdale last weekend shooting a film based on Sri Lankan refugees' reactions to the performance.

Her two main characters, a man and his daughter, are played by a real-life former refugee from the country and his seven-year-old.

Bastian, who worked in Sri Lanka during the civil war, told The Huffington Post Canada that the experience of shooting was intense for all of them. The first time a fighter jet flew overhead, the two actors were shell shocked.

"The daughter jumped in her dad's arms," she said. "The dad started crying."

The man said that the planes' sound reminded him of running from air raids.

"He was so baffled as to why it was necessary," said Bastian.

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