Tensions arise between Muskoka locals and drivers with U.S. licence plates, mayor says

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus outbreak: Cottage country mayors express coronavirus concerns' Coronavirus outbreak: Cottage country mayors express coronavirus concerns
WATCH: Two cottage country mayors, Darnelda Siegers of Sechelt, B.C. and Phil Harding of Muskoka Lakes join Mercedes Stephenson to talk about about their concerns regarding cottage owners amid the pandemic – May 17, 2020

As Muskoka, Ont., continues into Stage 2 of the province’s reopening strategy, local residents are confronting drivers with U.S. licence plates in the area, according to one mayor in the region.

Muskoka Lakes Mayor Phil Harding said there have been verbal conflicts, and in some instances, he’s heard of cars being keyed.

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“That’s not appropriate,” he said. “There’s a whole bunch of reasons why they may be driving an American licence plate.”

On June 24, Bracebridge OPP Const. Samantha Bigley told Global News the police service hasn’t received any reports of verbal conflicts or property damage.

“Those are criminal offences,” Bigley said. “Mischief to someone’s property is something that should be reported to police and can be reported to police.”

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According to Harding, the confrontations are typically taking place at grocery stores, gas stations or in public spaces.

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“I’ve heard about it for over a month now,” the Muskoka Lakes mayor said. “Unless they are landed immigrants here in Canada, you can’t travel just to come visit if you are American. You have to be a Canadian resident or a landed immigrant.”

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People with U.S. plates aren’t the only ones who have been accosted for being in the area. In the earlier days of the COVID-19 pandemic, reports circulated of tensions arising between permanent and seasonal Muskoka residents.

At the time, Bracebridge Mayor Graydon Smith told Global News it’s not acceptable to treat others with anything less than empathy and compassion on both sides.

On Friday, many services and businesses in Muskoka were permitted to reopen under Stage 2 of Ontario’s reopening strategy, including restaurant patios, hair salons and barbershops.

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Harding said Muskoka Lakes is busy but not as packed as it typically is in the summer.

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“There’s people milling about, there’s people in shops, all following social distancing protocols,” he said, adding that he thinks people are still scared of the virus and don’t how to react to it.

“I really hope people look at themselves and how they conduct themselves versus pointing a finger, saying, ‘You shouldn’t be doing this,'” Harding said.

As of Wednesday, there have been a total of 21 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in Muskoka, 19 of which have recovered.

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