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U.S. Air Force members in Winnipeg say they were attacked because of American plates

Some U.S. Air Force members based in Winnipeg say they're facing some backlash from the community because of their American license plates.
Some U.S. Air Force members based in Winnipeg say they're facing some backlash from the community because of their American license plates. Global News

Some United States Air Force members posted in Winnipeg say they are being attacked because of their U.S. licence plates, and the force wants people to know they are not breaking any rules.

Members with out of town plates are having their vehicles keyed, finding nasty notes and are on the receiving end of obscene gestures from Winnipeggers, according to one member’s Facebook post.

Lt. Col. Brian Hardeman, the commander for the Americans based in Winnipeg, said he’s aware of about a handful of incidents.

“Some of our dependents have been using grocery stores … some people have used profanity basically telling them to go home, go back to where you come from,” Hardeman said.

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

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“The erroneous assumption is that people here in the U.S. community, is that we’re here under false pretences when actually we are here for legitimate purposes.”

Hardeman said Americans have been working alongside Canadians at the Winnipeg base for more than 20 years, although he wouldn’t say how many are currently there for security reasons.

He said all members are following local guidelines.

“It’s been an unfortunate circumstance where some U.S. personnel, not military, have crossed the closed border with pretences of tourist,” Hardeman said.

Read more: Coronavirus: B.C. premier raises ‘Alaska loophole’ with feds amid U.S. vehicle sightings

The Canada-U.S. land border has been closed to all but essential travel since March as America’s coronavirus infections surge.

The U.S. is seeing record-breaking new infections and some states closing parts of the economy again.

On Wednesday, more than 60,000 new cases were reported south of the border, which is the biggest increase ever reported by a country in a single day, according to a Reuters tally.

In Manitoba, no new cases of the virus have been reported in more than a week.

The tensions come after B.C. premier John Horgan raised the issue earlier this month of U.S. citizens claiming they were driving through Canada to head to Alaska.

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“I represent the West Coast of Vancouver Island and I was speaking with the local chief of the Pacheedaht First Nation, and he tells me that there was a licence plate from Texas and a licence plate from California at the Port Renfrew general store,” Horgan said.

“If you’re going to Alaska, you don’t go through Port Renfrew, so we’re concerned about this phenomenon, and we’re hearing it in communities right across the province.”

In Muskoka Lakes, Ont., Mayor Phil Harding reported verbal conflicts and vandalism to cars owned by people with out-of-country plates, especially at gas stations and grocery stores.

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

Bracebridge OPP Const. Samantha Bigley said those are criminal offences.

“Mischief to someone’s property is something that should be reported to police and can be reported to police.”

Read more: Coronavirus: U.S. sets single-day record with 60,000 new cases of COVID-19

 

Hardeman wants Winnipeg residents to know U.S. Air Force members are community members too, even if they don’t have local license plates.

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“We are productive members in the community, our children go to Winnipeg school’s, some of the spouses work on the economy here in Winnipeg,” Hardeman said.

“My wife is Canadian, she’s from Alberta, so it’s our second posting in Canada,” he said.

“We love our time here.”

-With files from Daina Goldfinger and Simon Little