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Albertan owner of B.C. cabin apologizes for calling 'stay away' message 'insulting'

"My aim was just to get people to think, but it was pretty heavy handed and a bit of an over reaction."
Photo: Columbia Shuswap Regional District

By Jon Manchester

An Alberta man who stirred up a hornet's nest of reaction over his comments about the Shuswap's plea for visitors to stay away over the Victoria Day long weekend is offering an apology.

Roger Dunkley of Calgary, who owns a cabin in the Shuswap, fired off an angry email following Columbia Shuswap Regional District chair Kevin Flynn's statement on May 13 urging people to forego unnecessary travel and stay close to home as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

"This is not the time to pack up the car or RV for a road trip or to head for your cabin. This is the time to stay local and check out all the great things about your home community," said Flynn.

Dunkley took exception to the "stay away" message, writing a long email to Shuswap politicians and the media, calling it an "insult" to the many Albertans who own vacation properties in the Shuswap.

"During all those decades we Albertan cabin owners have been coming to the Shuswap, we've been contributing heavily to your economy to the tune of tens of millions of dollars a year," he wrote. "So now ... you're saying we're not welcome to go out and enjoy and self-isolate/social distance at our own properties? Thank you for your welcoming words and gratitude. So nice to know how we who contribute so handsomely to your local economy are appreciated and valued."

Dunkley said he would now make every effort to bring everything he needs with him from Alberta, so as not to spend any money in B.C.

"Words and actions have consequences," he wrote, "and these are the consequences of your insulting and thoughtless words."

But, after the story received more than 70,000 reads and was shared over 100 times on Facebook, with almost 1,000 comments, Dunkley says he has had time to rethink his position.

"I did receive a lot of hate for it – and a lot of support, too," he said Sunday on the phone from Calgary. "My aim was just to get people to think, but it was pretty heavy handed and a bit of an over reaction."

Dunkley says he can see why it would have been seen negatively by locals, and "I'm a little upset with myself. I should have put that letter away for a day and come back to it, but I didn't."

He said the "get out or stay out thing is not getting very good play over here. People are sensitive to it. Albertans already have a feeling of alienation, and this plays into that.

"A lot of people took exception, and rightly so. It was a stupid way to get my point across."

Saying he wants to calm the situation down, Dunkley said cabin owners should be allowed to visit their properties, but must also do "the responsible thing and act accordingly to protect themselves and others" during the pandemic if they have to run into town for supplies.

Dunkley says someone even went as far as contacting a local realtor to say he wanted to list his vacation property for sale. "I was shocked when I received a call from the realtor ... the whole experience frightened me a little bit. I never wanted to aggravate people like that."

Calling his letter impulsive, he said he regrets its tone and wants to make it clear that Albertans understand the concerns of British Columbians about COVID-19 being brought in by outsiders.

But, he said the messaging coming out of B.C. can be seen as harmful to the province's image, and there have been cases of Albertans' vehicles being keyed and tires slashed in other parts of B.C.

"For some time ... there has been a sentiment of alienation and of being under appreciated growing in Alberta, so this kind of news is just throwing more gas on that fire," he wrote in a follow up email.

"When I wrote my letter, my intent was to try and make all of that understood and to also get across what the negative consequences could be to B.C.'s image and economy," he wrote.

"In the end, we are all Canadians, and I think there are ways we can make it work and safe for all."

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