Stop jumping to conclusions

Re: It's not rocket science

This is the second letter I’ve seen in recent weeks commenting on how “you know they’re from out of town because of X.” And taking into consideration the incidents from last year, where vehicles with out of town plates were vandalized, tire lug-nuts were loosened, etc., I want to address the points that I can speak to personally, to hopefully ease some folks' concerns.

Firstly, I agree with the general sentiment; there are absolutely tourists travelling to the Interior from outside of our region despite Provincial health orders strongly suggesting no one do that, and it is extremely frustrating. My initial reaction is one of annoyance when I see RVs that appear to be from out of town cruising Interior highways and crowding Interior campgrounds – but I have to remind myself that I have no way of knowing for sure where their owner(s) live. In fact I have no way of knowing where many potential out of towners reside.

Rather than jumping to conclusions, there are several things worth considering.

According to stats Canada, Kelowna is one of the fastest growing cities in Canada. Newcomers arrive frequently and many bring their vehicles with them. I’m not personally from Kelowna – like many, I moved up here later in life. But I kept the car I purchased in the Lower Mainland a decade ago. It still has the dealership logo/sticker on it, as well as the license plate frame from the dealership. Until very recently, it had not occurred to me that my car could be a target for vandalism or that I might be treated with hostility based on the assumption I’m from out of town. Frankly it’s an alarming realization.

It’s also not unheard of for folks to travel to the Lower Mainland to purchase used cars, or to find a better deal, or to pick up the model/color vehicle they want because the dealerships up here don’t have their preferred combo in stock. This applies to RVs, as well – probably not all of the ones cruising the highways right now, but certainly some. Those vehicles, too, will have out of town dealership branding/advertising on them.

All of this is to say that a dealership logo/sticker or license plate frame are unreliable clues regarding where the driver currently resides.

I also understand the concern being expressed about American plates – our border is supposed to be closed, so why are there all of these personal vehicles with American plates up here?

The answer: because their owners are probably living here at the moment.

We have several universities within the Okanagan, including UBCO, where many international students come to study. Some, particularly those who are close enough to reasonably do so, also bring their vehicles with them.

If you’re not familiar with international study (and unless you are or know an international student, why would you be?), when you’re on a work/study visa you do not need to import your vehicle to Canada. From a financial standpoint, it makes sense not to; importing a vehicle is expensive, and if you plan to move back to the USA after completing your degree or until your visa expires, there’s no reason to spend thousands of dollars to do so. Likewise, American car insurance is much, much cheaper than ICBC’s (we’re talking half the price per month), and so in that respect as well, it makes sense not to import your vehicle until you have to – eg. If you receive permanent residence status.

For folks currently living in Canada with US plates who want to swap them, doing so is extremely difficult, if not impossible right now. In order to import a vehicle and swap plates, it must be processed at a port of entry, meaning a land border crossing is required. Importing a vehicle is not considered essential travel, and currently, US citizens with a student visa or even a Canadian permanent residence status card are not guaranteed re-entry into Canada. At this point, with no way to take them down to the US and be guaranteed re-entry, US vehicles already in Canada are basically stuck here for the time being.

It’s also worth mentioning that anyone who is able to cross the border (land or air) from the USA into Canada right now must complete a mandatory 14 day quarantine and when following those rules, individuals are unlikely to contribute to the spread of COVID (they are, after all, in a vehicle with perhaps a handful of occupants, travelling directly to a quarantine location where they will be checked in on for the next 14 days).

There are strict requirements for entry to the country if you are not a Canadian citizen, and they won’t just take you at your word – you’ll need proof of your valid reason for entry. There are probably sill a few rule-breakers, but overall coming to Canada by land is no easy task right now. While it’s entirely possible that there are folks out there cheating the system (like the folks heading to Alaska via Banff last summer), it’s unlikely that every international license plate out there is flaunting these restrictions and requirements, particularly when having an international plate on your car already feels a lot like having a target on your back.

Let’s stop jumping to conclusions about who does and doesn’t belong here, and start giving people the benefit of the doubt more often.

Jennifer Letkemann

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