I was packing for my road trip from Colorado to Alberta, Canada, when the text came in from a gentleman I’d been helping with groceries during the pandemic.
“The Canadians are actually doing damage to vehicles with United States plates on them,” he cautioned, giving me my first inkling that it wasn’t just public health officials who were serious about keeping Americans out of Canada, where the death rate from the coronavirus has been roughly half that of its southern neighbor.
As a dual citizen I was entitled to cross the border, closed to most Americans because of the pandemic. With an octogenarian father in Calgary who had been largely isolated during the stay-at-home orders, I was willing to submit to Canada’s mandatory two-week quarantine in order to visit.
But my friend’s warning proved prescient. Some concerned residents who fear that the virus will be spread to their communities have been taking matters into their own hands, spurring so many reports of intimidation that the premier of British Columbia, John Horgan, reminded angry Canadians to “Be Calm. Be Kind” at a July 27 news conference.
Addressing those Americans who are in Canada legally, he said: “With respect to those who have offshore plates and are feeling harassed, I would suggest perhaps public transit. I would suggest that they get their plates changed. I would suggest that they ride a bike.”
Before the pandemic, when Americans could choose most any country in the world to travel, Canada was their second most popular foreign destination, behind only Mexico. Lured by the proximity, advantageous exchange rate and safety of their northern neighbor, in the first six months of last year, U.S. residents made 10.5 million trips to Canada, the highest level in 12 years, according to Statistics Canada, a government agency.
But the welcome mat was rolled up on March 31, when the border between the two countries was closed to tourists.
That hasn’t kept some Americans from trying, however. Many are routinely turned away at border crossings, while other have chosen to go sightseeing instead of taking the most direct route to Alaska as required of those driving from the Lower 48 — even though violators face possible fines, jail or even being banned from Canada.
There were so many interlopers that on July 31, Canada began limiting which crossings along the border with the United States can be used by foreign nationals who are allowed to transit through the country for nondiscretionary purposes. It is also requiring them to register, and making them display a hang tag on their rear view mirror with a mandatory departure date. The crackdown comes even though the number of tickets issued was just a fraction of the number of reports coming in to Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
In the province of Alberta, for instance, there were no tickets issued to American motorists in April, May or July, and only nine tickets issued in June, all in Banff National Park, said Cpl. Tammy Keibel, a spokeswoman for the R.C.M.P. in Southern Alberta. The federal police force didn’t start recording complaints about international license plates until June 17, but there were 53 reports in the entire province between June 17 and June 29, and 121 between July 1 and July 28, she said.
The province’s most troublesome scofflaw thus far is a fellow from Alaska who was so determined to enjoy Banff with a woman from Calgary that he’d met online that he was issued two of the June tickets. His identity hasn’t yet been released, Corporal Keibel said.