A Chilliwack couple fed up with the noise from a neighbouring pickleball court are going next-level in their protest. Starting Sunday (July 23), Rajnish and Harpreet Dhawan say they are staging a hunger strike that will continue until the City of Chilliwack decommissions the courts at Kinsmen Park on Portage Avenue.
“As staunch followers of Mahatma Gandhi, we have decided to follow the path shown by him to deal with systemic injustice,” Rajnish wrote in a letter. “We would prefer death over continuing to live the life of second class citizens that we have been reduced to due to the callous and discriminatory attitude of the City.”
The Dhawans bought a home on Woodbine Street in 2017. At the time, there were no pickleball courts and they considered it a plus to hear the sounds of the adjacent park.
“I drew creative energy from activities going on in the park which included watching people play tennis, children enjoying the slides and swings, people taking a stroll or walking their dogs, and youths enjoying late night parties,” Rajnish said. “None of the sounds from such activities bothered us; it became a part of our soundscape, especially during summers when most of the windows of our home are kept open.”
But when the pickleball courts were added in 2019, and resurfaced in 2021, the sound of plastic balls hitting plastic paddles became unbearable. Rajnish brought his concerns to the City 11 months ago, suggesting the courts were installed without consulting neighbours and were constructed without any noise studies.
Other municipalities have dealt with the pickleball problem. In Port Moody, any court within 350 feet of residential properties usually requires noise abatement.
“We are sensitive to these types of sounds because they alert us to events occurring nearby that we may need to respond to,” according to the S&W Acoustics report submitted to Port Moody city council in 2021. “Continuous false alarms such as the popping sound created by pickleball paddle impacts make it difficult to relax, concentrate, or sleep soundly.”
In Saanich the noise abatement threshold is 500 feet and many cities in the U.S. have similar ordinances in place.
Rajnish said he’s communicated with the City several times since his first complaint. Each time, he said someone expresses sympathy and he hears that action will be taken to decommission the courts and repurpose the space for other sports like field hockey, etc.
But in February, he said he was told the courts will remain in use until an alternative is found for local pickleball players.
Chilliwack Pickleball Club president Lyle Simpson said in May that the club had asked members to not use the court, but he said there was nothing the club could do if people chose to do so. Rajnish said the courts continue to function as they were functioning 11 months ago.
“The City’s guidelines to use a soft ball after 4 p.m. and to use the courts only till 8 p.m. are flouted with impunity by the members of Chilliwack Pickleball Club and other players every day and no bylaw officer ever shows up or bothers to enforce those guidelines,” he said. “We are being subjected to physical, mental, emotional, and psychological abuse consistently by making us feel like second class citizens of this country.”
Rajnish is a professor at the University of the Fraser Valley. He said he does a lot of work (grading papers/exams, preparing lectures) at home, and the noise has forced him to cancel classes and even leave the country for India. He claimed to have developed symptoms of anxiety, sleeplessness, auditory hallucinations, and heart flutter.
“My wife was left alone to deal with constant assault on her senses,” Rajnish said. “Now, even she has had to consult a mental health professional since she too has developed symptoms of insomnia, anxiety and heart flutter. We are now convinced that the City of Chilliwack has no intention to treat us fairly and at par with the other citizens of Chilliwack.”
The Dhawans signed the letter from ‘The less privileged residents of Chilliwack,’ saying they’ll start their hunger strike at 9 a.m. Sunday morning and “it will not end until we get justice.”