VICTORIA -- Licence plates can say a lot about a driver, including expressing pride in a province's natural beauty. But anyone with American plates in B.C. knows they can also attract a frosty reaction from locals during the COVID-19 pandemic.

There has been a rash of reports of people being harassed for having out-of-province plates, even if they're in B.C. legitimately.

“Jesse Hutchinson is from the United States, but has lived in Victoria for seven years and has two young children who are Canadian. He just completed his PhD at the University of Victoria, and is moving very shortly to New Zealand for a job as a seismologist. Under B.C. legislation, students are allowed to use out-of-province license plates.”

Still he’s having a hard time lately due to his Washington state plates

"When I’m driving, people are a lot pushier,” Hutchinson says. “I'll get honked at even though I’m driving fine."

But that’s not as rough a ride as one Canadian who lives in California and is currently in B.C. visiting family. 

After finishing his two-week quarantine, Michael found his California plates stolen off his car.

"I spent the better part of my life up here so it’s very disturbing to think that one of my neighbours –conceivably – might have done this," he said. CTV News has agreed not to publish his last name. 

Michael has taken to signalling that he’s allowed in B.C. by adorning his car with displays of patriotism, including Canadian flag stickers. He has also installed cameras on his vehicle, along with warning signs, to deter potential thieves.

"I did see a guy who said, 'Just be glad your whole car wasn’t stolen,' so that did put me on edge in terms of what am I going to do moving forward?" Michael said.

On Monday, Premier John Horgan urged residents to exercise compassion and civility if they spot a car with an American licence plate.

"We don’t know the circumstances of people when we come upon them," Horgan said.

He also advised those worried about mistreatment to think about other ways of getting around.

"Perhaps public transit," the premier suggested. "I would suggest they get their plates changed. I would suggest that they ride a bike."

Hutchinson calls those ideas impractical and unfair for many families. "If you have a family and kids and you want to get out and go to the beach or bring back groceries for the week, you’re going to need a car."

Another idea that was addressed by Health Minister Adrian Dix was adopting Yukon’s model of providing special decals for out-of-province plates to indicate the vehicle is legitimately allowed in the area.

"I’m sure we’ll take a look at that, maybe talk to our friends in the Yukon,” Dix said.

In the meantime, those like Hutchinson, who are driving around with United States plates, have a message to residents: "Just by looking at someone’s plate you don’t know their whole story," he said.