Some out-of-province people are feeling nervous about the hostile reception they’ve received in Port Alberni on Vancouver Island.
As COVID-19 cases rise in the United States, some British Columbians are worried about out-of-province travellers bringing the virus with them. Health officials in B.C. say that the Canada-U.S. border is expected to remain closed to non-essential travel until at least late August.
But one young woman staying in Port Alberni, a dual Canada and U.S. citizen, says she has had people harassing her and compromising her privacy on social media due to her U.S. licence plates. She has requested to remain anonymous, as RCMP have asked her not to give out any personal details for her safety.
She moved to Port Alberni in mid-May to help out a cousin, but has been in Canada since last summer, staying with family as she goes through the process of a painful divorce. Her car, which still had U.S. plates, was parked in Port Alberni for about a month as she was in the process of having it junked. She became worried when she noticed multiple people taking pictures of the car.
She has since gotten rid of her car, but is still worried because photos of her have been circulating on Facebook.
“I called the RCMP, and they told me [my car] had been reported several times,” she said. “They had already checked with the border crossing and confirmed that I had been in Canada since before COVID hit.”
The RCMP also warned her to “be safe” and keep her phone on her at all times.
“This put me on high alert,” she said.
She said she was surprised by the unwelcome reception from her home country.
“I thought coming back to Canada would be like the hug I needed,” she said. “My original plan was to stay here for a little while and then move back to the States.”
Then COVID-19 hit, and she is now stuck as the Canada-U.S. borders remain closed.
“I’m immuno-compromised myself, so COVID is very scary for me,” she said. “I didn’t expect the animosity. I don’t believe all U.S. licence plates are tied to ‘evil Americans’ who are here to spread the virus. I think a lot of people are in the same situation I’m in. I don’t think it helps when people are being unkind to each other right now.”
She is not the only one who feels unsafe in Port Alberni. Another woman with U.S. licence plates says she has been confronted at multiple locations in town, including gas stations and the Quality Foods parking lot. She is a Canadian citizen and U.S. resident who moved to Port Alberni temporarily in March to take care of her ailing grandmother.
“I actually found a note on my truck saying the cops have my licence number,” she said. “Once while I was driving with my grandmother, somebody flipped us the bird. It’s gotten to the point where I get nervous when I get in the car every day.”
With the borders closed, she doesn’t know how much longer she will be in Canada, but says she is starting to fear for her safety.
“I wish people would be a little bit nicer,” she said. “It’s not like people don’t have a right to be here just because they don’t have B.C. plates.”
Port Alberni city councillor Cindy Solda expressed her concern for some of the “plate-hate” during a meeting of council on Monday, July 13. She explained that she met a family from Alberta that was visiting Port Alberni with the intention of moving to the community.
“These people were looking at houses,” she explained. “In the meantime, the neighbours are taking pictures of their licence plates. It turned [them] off moving to the community. I understand we’re all scared of COVID,” she added. “But we need to have more communication and there’s more reasons why people are in the community.”
Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions pointed out during the meeting that travel between provinces is currently allowed.
“I know there’s been a lot of concern about the United States licence plates that people are seeing, and I would encourage people to follow proper process,” she said. “It’s not our issue to go out and solve on our own.”
Even B.C.’s top doctor, Dr. Bonnie Henry, said during a press briefing earlier this month that British Columbians need to “take a step back” and realize they may not know why people with out-of-province, or even U.S., licence plates are here. There are numerous reasons American travellers may be in Canada, including work requirements and dual nationality.
If you are concerned about a traveller in the Alberni Valley, report it to the Canada Border Services Agency’s reporting line at 1-888-502-9060 and pass on the licence plate number and where you saw them.
If the CBSA has concerns, the RCMP in the area will be tasked to check on the visitor.