VICTORIA — Drivers in British Columbia with out-of-province licence plates, especially those from the United States, should consider taking transit or riding a bicycle if they feel harassed by local residents, says Premier John Horgan.
Horgan also suggested Monday that drivers switch to B.C. plates to avoid pointed questions from residents who are concerned about the spread of COVID-19.
"I would suggest, perhaps, public transit," he said at a news conference. "I would suggest that they get their plates changed. I would suggest they ride a bike."
Horgan and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry have said interprovincial travel is allowed and both have stressed that a vehicle's licence plate does not mean the driver is from outside B.C.
The border between Canada and the United States remains closed to non-essential travel until at least Aug. 21, when the issue will be reconsidered by the Canadian and American governments.
Henry said there are many reasons why people are driving vehicles with out-of-province licence plates and those drivers should be treated with respect.
"We do not know everybody's story, and I think we need to pay attention to the fact that we all are in this together, whether our licence plate is from somewhere else, whether it's from Alberta or whether it's from California," she said.
Henry reported that 81 new COVID-19 cases have been detected in B.C. since Friday, and two more residents of long-term care homes have died.
B.C. now has a total of 3,500 COVID-19 cases and 193 deaths. Henry said 3,043 people have recovered from the illness.
She said a berry packing plant near Abbotsford in the Fraser Valley is the location of the most recent COVID-19 outbreak in the province with 15 positive cases.
The outbreak on the remote island of Haida Gwaii has increased to include 14 confirmed cases of COVID-19, up from 13 cases reported Friday, said Henry.
A recent jump of infections in B.C. has been linked to larger gatherings where officials say physical distancing protocols may not have been followed.
Henry said Monday that modifications to the rules around gatherings will now limit the number of people in short-term vacation rentals, including hotel rooms and houseboats, to the capacity of the unit plus five visitors.
Gatherings in B.C. remain limited to 50 people or less.
Police around the province have reported disputes that arose when residents questioned drivers about their out-of-province licence plates.
Horgan said he can't tell people how to respond when seeing different licence plates, but judging people by where their vehicle is registered does not often tell a complete story.
"We don't know why they would continue to have plates that are not consistent with B.C. and we should act accordingly," he said.
Drivers with out-of-province plates should also be aware that B.C. has embraced numerous health restrictions in the effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19, the premier said.
"What I can tell these individuals is there's a high degree of certainty in B.C. that we want to keep our borders closed until neighbouring jurisdictions get a better handle on COVID-19," he said. "Those who are overtly declaring by their licence plates that they're from somewhere else should be mindful of that."
Horgan said British Columbia residents should also consider the individual circumstances of other people before making judgments based on their licence plates.
"I ask people to walk a mile in other people's shoes and try and live those experiences before you're judgmental," he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 27, 2020.