British Columbia·Video

Nervous about driving a U.S.-registered car in B.C.? Change your plates or take transit, premier advises

Premier John Horgan offered blunt advice to drivers with American licence plates who are nervous about judgment from B.C. residents during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

John Horgan also asks residents to reserve judgment on those driving vehicles with American plates

Horgan advises drivers with non-B.C. plates to take transit to avoid harassment

3 years ago
Duration 1:41
B.C. Premier John Horgan says drivers could change to B.C. plates to avoid trouble from residents who are concerned about the spread of COVID-19.

Premier John Horgan had some blunt advice Monday for those drivers in B.C. with American licence plates who are nervous about being judged by B.C. residents. 

"With respect to those who have offshore plates and are feeling harassed, I would suggest perhaps public transit. I would suggest that they get their plates changed. I would suggest that they ride a bike," the premier said at a news conference Monday morning.

But Horgan also had words for those who were keen to judge.

"We don't know why they would continue to have plates that are not consistent with British Columbia and we should act accordingly," Horgan said. 

"If you believe that someone is a threat to you, you should keep your distance. If you can't, wear a mask and be civil and respectful. Be calm. Be kind. And we'll be safe."

The COVID-19 pandemic has escalated tensions in general, but particularly between Canadians and Americans due to the vastly different approach and outcomes to the crisis on either side of the border.

The U.S. has the highest number of coronavirus cases and deaths in the world. In contrast, B.C. has been seen as a coronavirus success story, having flattened its curve relatively early.

The U.S.-Canada border has been shut down to non-essential travel since March 21. Earlier this month, that agreement was extended into August. 

But even though traffic at the border is substantially down, anecdotes of American travellers using the so-called Alaska loophole to vacation in B.C. instead of travelling directly to the northern state persist. 

"There's a high degree of certainty in British Columbia that we want to keep our borders closed until neighbouring jurisdictions get a better handle on COVID-19. I think that those who are overtly declaring by their licence plates that they've come from somewhere else should be mindful of that and act accordingly," said Horgan. 

Legitimate reasons

People driving cars with U.S. plates say they've endured vandalism and harassment from Canadians convinced that they're Americans illegally in Canada who might potentially spread the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

There are several legitimate reasons why drivers of cars with U.S. plates could be in Canada: they could be essential workers, have immediate family in Canada, or be Canadian citizens — all of whom are legally allowed to be here. 

When pressed on the measures he was asking these particular drivers to take, Horgan said while it was best not to judge people by their plates, he stood firm on his solution. 

"If you feel [anxious] travelling with your plates, identifying yourself as someone from away, at a time of heightened anxiety, I think it's incumbent on those individuals to take steps to reduce that anxiety," he said. 

"Doesn't seem jaw-dropping to me."