Comment: I just moved here and have U.S. plates: Stop looking for COVID scapegoats

A letter from someone who wishes to remain anonymous, for the well-being of himself, his wife and his car. 

It’s easy for Canadians to look southward and shake their heads in bemused smugness at the daily penchant of Americans to indulge in conspiracy theories and demonizing of disfavoured segments of society.

But I’m getting a whiff of that attitude here in Canada now. It serves as a reminder how easily irrationality and fear can spark reactions leading to full-blown witch hunts and targeting of the “others.”

The past few days I’ve seen multiple news reports of people reporting cars with U.S. plates. For some, the immediate reaction was to assume the owners of those cars have no right to be where they are, and then make the irrational link that anyone who comes from the U.S. must be dripping with coronavirus that will spread to anything they touch.

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These fears were stoked by some unfortunate remarks by the premier, which were fortunately walked back by more measured remarks by Dr. Bonnie Henry.

This jump to conclusions affects me personally. Last month, my wife and I moved to Victoria from California. It is a move we have planned for five years and was irretrievably set in motion a year before anyone ever heard of the novel coronavirus.

But now that we are here — thoroughly inspected and interrogated by both CBSA and provincial health officials at the border and after completing our 14-day isolation (which confirmed our symptom-free condition during the three months of lockdown in California) — we are now faced with a very un-Canadian attitude of guilt-by-association for anyone whose car (as does ours) bears U.S. plates.

Leave aside the fact that COVID-19 spreads generally by transmission of fluids during close (usually confined, indoor) contact with someone else; leave aside the fact that wearing a mask and keeping distance are the two most effective ways to avoid transmission, wherever the suspected carrier hails from; leave aside the fact that the incidence of mask-wearing in B.C. seems far below what my wife and I expected and practise ourselves.

The mere fact someone belongs to a “suspect group” (owners of cars with U.S. plates) does not make them public-health pariahs; that is the heart of the conspiracy-driven, fear-mongering in the U.S. we Canadians rightfully disparage.

The news reports invariably actually talk with the car owners and discover that they are here legitimately.

But they fear reprisal from the unthinking, who are quick to grab their pitchfork and call for a witch-burning.

I know my wife and I are concerned about that as well, wondering if our car will be keyed by some anonymous COVID-19 vigilante; that’s why I ask my name not be reproduced with this letter.

While we all need to remain vigilant and compliant in fighting the pandemic, turning on superficial scapegoats without knowing their full story is no solution and just imports northward a different epidemic we should work equally hard to keep out.

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