COVID-19 travel advisories create tensions in B.C. tourist towns
At least 5 incidents involving vehicles with Alberta licence plates have grabbed people's attention
Tourism-reliant communities in the B.C. Interior are appealing for calm after at least five vehicles bearing Alberta plates were allegedly vandalized, left with nasty notes or the drivers were aggressively confronted and told to go home.
The incidents come as B.C. public health officials continue to urge people not to travel unless it's essential.
Last month in Revelstoke, Matt Graham found a note on his windshield, telling him to "F-ck off back to Alberta! Supposed to be not doing non-essential travel." Soon after, he also noticed a large scratch on the side of his car.
"That is when I put two and two together — the keying and the note," he said.
"It's the plates, right?"
Graham, who was born in B.C. but spent more than a decade living in Alberta, moved back at the beginning of May after taking a job at a cannabis company.
At the time, he still had an Alberta plate on his vehicle.
In other B.C. communities, drivers have found similar notes on their Alberta-plated cars.
Janean James told CBC News through a Facebook message that when she returned to her car after parking in Cranbrook last month, one of her tires was cut and a "disturbing" note was left behind.
Some Albertans have tried to be proactive. Jennifer Bowen, who moved to Vancouver Island at the end of May, tells CBC News she left a note on her dashboard asking people not to slash her tires because of her Alberta plates.
Police said that in April, a man in Columbia Valley spat at a vehicle with an Alberta plate. On May 18, a man in Trail verbally confronted a woman with an Alberta licence plate, according to the RCMP.
While it appears there have only been a few incidents where vehicles have been targeted, the hostile reception is at odds with the fact that the economies of many communities in the region are buoyed by inter-provincial visitors and seasonal residents.
According to Destination B.C., Albertans spent $1.4 billion in B.C.'s tourism industry in 2016, which is the last year a complete market profile was available from the provincial Crown corporation.
In the lakeside community of Sicamous, which sits halfway between Vancouver and Calgary, the population can swell from 3,000 residents in the off-season to 15,000 in the summer.
Half of the 1,900 residential properties in Sicamous are owned by non-residents, including many Albertans.
"It is really important that we consider the situation with COVID-19 and be kind to people," Sicamous Mayor Terry Rysz told CBC. "No bullying."
Rysz, who has launched a social media campaign entitled "We're people, not plates," is trying to encourage people to be respectful and think twice about judging someone based on where their vehicle is registered.
However, that doesn't mean that the community is encouraging everyone to come for a visit. Rysz says its following all of the advice from public health officials in B.C., which includes recommending against all non-essential travel.
Sicamous is part of the Columbia-Shuswap Regional District, which put out a news release before the May long weekend, urging property owners who don't live in the area year-round to stay away for the time being.
That message made Jody Boychuk, a Sicamous business owner, nervous.
Over the winter she embarked on a renovation of her 4,000-square foot beach apparel shop which is open five months of the year.
"We were very concerned about Albertans not coming," she said.
"They are a huge impact on our community and the livelihood of all the small shops in town."
Surprisingly, she said her store had record sales on the May long weekend, but other businesses have noticed a steep drop.
At Viewpoint RV and Cottages in Salmon Arm., Carol Beaulieu said cancellations spiked after the B.C. government announced that non-residents wouldn't be able to book sites at provincial campgrounds.
About a third of their bookings typically come from Alberta, and Beaulieu said many of them thought they had to cancel even though those restrictions don't affect private campgrounds and resorts.
Beaulieu says some even mentioned the recent vehicle vandalism as a reason for changing their plans.
"People are afraid to come, so that adds another element of fear," she said.
To try and combat that, some are trying to make people feel welcome.
In addition to the "We're people, not plates" campaign in Sicamous, a group in Revelstoke has taken it upon themselves to write a different kind of note.
After the local news reported on the profane message that was left on Graham's car, Charlene Pors feared the worst when she saw a piece of paper on her windshield on May 27.
"I thought it was going to be something horrible," said Pors, who had been driving her husband's truck which has an Alberta plate.
Instead of a rude note, it was a typed letter, welcoming her and signed from "The Good People of Revelstoke."
"It was a really nice change," she said.
With files from Chris Corday and Rachel Ward