P.E.I. sees rise in anti-outsider sentiment as COVID-19 travel restrictions ease

CHARLOTTETOWN — Canada’s smallest province, which once branded itself the “gentle island,” is seeing some not-so-gentle attitudes emerging toward people perceived to be from other provinces — a phenomenon Prince Edward Island Premier Dennis King says is likely driven by COVID-19 fears.

The province has been closed to all non-essential travellers since April 17 and only began allowing seasonal residents to come from within Canada on June 1.

These travel restrictions have been lauded as being key to keeping the virus contained to only 27 cases in total since the pandemic began — now all recovered — with no hospitalizations, no deaths and no community spread of the disease.

But with cottage owners now arriving on the Island, several people with out-of-province license plates have had their cars vandalized or have had nasty notes left for them in incidents known locally as ”plate shaming.”

Miriam Leslie, a local pastor, is leasing a car with Nova Scotia license plates and discovered a note left on her windshield earlier this month with an expletive that said, “Go the (expletive) back to the mainland.”

Leslie says she was disappointed by the note and hopes it will not deter potential visitors as the province prepares to open its doors to tourists from neighbouring provinces, thanks to the newly announced “Atlantic bubble” that will lift travel and self-isolation restrictions for people within the four Atlantic provinces starting July 3.

King says he believes the anti-outsider sentiment is not widespread and believes it comes from fear of the unknown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. He too hopes Atlantic tourists will think of P.E.I. as a welcoming province to visitors.

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