My spectacular licence plate, that gave a neighbour pause. (Emelie Peacock photo)

Reporter’s View: Licence plate hate, on the rise

Licence plate hate just didn’t start with the coronavirus.

The other day I was subjected to a phenomenon that has gained prominence during the coronavirus pandemic. A phenomenon I’m calling ‘licence plate hate.’

It happened when I was taking part in Hope’s annual Trash to Treasure day. I was enjoying myself immensely, driving around to different neighbourhoods and gazing at days-to-decades-old knick-knacks people had dusted off and put outside. Kudos, by the way, to the organizers for making Trash to Treasure such a fun experience for the community – a friend of mine picked up not one, but two fishtanks in the early hours of treasure hunting.

After driving said friend reluctantly back to work, I had stopped at a pile of ‘treasure’ outside a home when another treasure hunter parked behind me to inspect the goods. I noted the barbecue looked like a good find, to which she replied “Where are you from?,” gesturing towards my licence plate. “I recently moved from the Northwest Territories,” I replied.

The Northwest Territories is known for its midnight sun (in the summer) and minus 50 windchill (in the winter). Perhaps lesser known is that the NWT has possibly the coolest licence plates in the country – shaped like a polar bear with the word ‘spectacular’ written in bold letters across the bear’s back. For those of you who like random Canada trivia, Nunavut’s licence plate’s from the years 1999 to 2012 are also polar bear shaped.

Thinking we’d start up a quick chat about how we both got to Hope, or how long she’s lived here, I was surprised when she berated for being here. “You shouldn’t be doing this” she said as she jumped in her car, rolled up her window and drove off. It was a short exchange, but it left a sour taste in my mouth.

I’m not the only one who has been subjected to licence plate hate. Several people have shared their ow stories, as the coronavirus pandemic raged, of getting lambasted, spat at and threatened over their red Alberta plates. One man in Revelstoke had his car keyed and hand-written note full of expletives left on his vehicle telling him to “F**k off back to Alberta.”

And licence plate hate didn’t start with the coronavirus. I recall a similar thing happening in 2018 as Rachel Notley announced Alberta would ban the import of B.C. wine, while the two provinces were going head-to-head over their respective positions on the Trans Mountain pipeline project.

I do understand the fear that drives these actions. Yes, the coronavirus is scary and no, people shouldn’t be driving just for the hell of it.

My problem with people berating others for having out-of-province plates is threefold – it doesn’t take into account the reality of how people live in our country, it doesn’t make people safer or change their behaviour and in my opinion, it’s not the cure to pandemic virus fears.

First, the reality is that our country and our world is an interconnected place. People live, love and work in different provinces and territories. When Dr. Bonnie Henry says non-essential travel is not allowed, what she is also saying is that some people have to travel for a variety of reasons.

I’ve heard stories of B.C. residents having to pack up and move back home to Alberta, Saskatchewan and elsewhere, after losing their jobs due to the economy screeching to a halt in March. Not to mention the students, some of whom are now packing up and heading home to start their fall semesters from a parent’s living room.

I’ve heard of a retired nurse traveling back to her home province to join the ranks of healthcare workers bracing for the potential onslaught of coronavirus cases. And yes, some people live in one province and work in another. Back when Alberta was experiencing the oil boom, half the cohort of young adults from my tiny hometown on Vancouver Island migrated to the boomtowns of Fort McMurray and Grand Prairie. Some of them live there to this day.

And the reason why I’ve still got my bear plates? Well, I’m one of the poor souls who has to fork over big bucks to replace a windshield so my very close to new vehicle can pass an ICBC inspection. As others who have moved to the province will perhaps agree, if there’s anywhere to direct your expletives you’d be right to direct them to the insurance corporation monopolies of this world.

Second, we cannot prevent people from passing through our town, even though we’d like to. Hope has several highways running through town, and although we’d hope that people take it upon themselves to follow the provincial health officer’s warning and advice, not everyone will. Just like not everyone will wash their hands enough or wear a mask or stay home when they’re not sick. Policing your own actions and ensuring you do the best you can is how we get through this, I believe, rather than trying to police others.

Third, I’m not convinced that the danger of someone coming from Alberta or the Northwest Territories (where there are currently no active cases) is higher than someone coming from a metropolis like Vancouver. Danger, anyways, is the wrong word. It implies that a person has a choice of whether to catch and spread the virus when in reality, we can be as safe as possible and still be unlucky enough to come into contact with COVID-19.

The reality is that fear and hatred does not make our world a safer place. No one is an enemy in this pandemic, and we cannot let our fear of the situation rule our actions.

Some have, with awful consequences for the citizens and residents of Asian descent in this province. Vancouver police say has been a ‘staggering’ rise in anti-Asian hate crimes in the city ranging from grafitti on landmarks connected to the city’s Chinese community, to racial slurs and violence. For a city with such rich ties to the Asia Pacific region, and the contributions of generations of Chinese-Canadians, Japanese-Canadians and others of Asian descent, these actions are truly grotesque.

Rather than fear and gut reactions, the antidote to the fear many of us are feeling might just be to be kind to each other, to be calm in our interactions and to be safe in our actions.

Emelie Peacock is a reporter with the Hope Standard.

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