The Royal Canadian Air Force is bringing in a visual reminder to Manitobans that members of the U.S. military are serving and living in the province.
The RCAF is handing out bumper stickers to locally-based members from the United States to place on their car and tell Manitobans that they belong in the province.
“A lot of people don’t know that we have US members serving here in Winnipeg,” said Col. David Proteau, Wing Commander at 17 Wing Winnipeg. “We have nearly 50 of them, and their families. They provide to the community, some of their spouses are employed in the area, their children go to schools, so they’re very fully integrated in the area.”
During the summer, some soldiers serving and their families reported having their vehicles vandalized due to the United States licence plates. Some of their family members also reported being harassed at businesses and being told to go back home.
Dominic Litwin, First Air Force Detachment 1 Commander, is among the soldiers serving in Winnipeg, He said prior to the pandemic, American soldiers were very involved in the community.
He added people for the most part have been positive to them being there, but there have been some negative encounters.
“There has been a few instances where we’ve experienced some verbal harassment, some questions about why we’re here, all based on the U.S. plates that we drive with on our vehicles,” he said.
The incidents came when Manitoba’s COVID-19 numbers were fairly low, while the U.S. numbers were fairly high.
The U.S-Canada border has been closed to non-essential travel since March 21, with the current agreement set to expire on Nov. 21, 2020.
“We decided in order to educate the population, we could potentially make something very easy that can be affixed to the car, near the licence plate, that informed people that those Americans living in Winnipeg are part of the defence team,” Proteau said. “They follow all COVID protocols, some of them have been here for many years, they’re part of the community, they’re part of our defence team, and they serve alongside us in Winnipeg.”
The bumper stickers were distributed last week, and say the owner of the vehicle is a member of a U.S. Military Family serving in Canada.
Litwin said he wants Manitobans to do one thing if they see a U.S. plate out in the community.
“Just like the licence plate says, Friendly Manitoba, just come up, have a friendly chat with us, find out who we are, what we’re doing, we are glad to always engage with the community,” he said.