Tuesday, December 12, 2017

In a commentary in the Ottawa Citizen, International Human Rights Program director Samer Muscati and research associate Petra Molnar argue that refugees in Ontario should benefit from the exemption to the driving-test waiting period available to other newcomers in Ontario, and to refugees in other provinces ("Ontario should revise discriminatory driving policy against refugees," December 11, 2017).

Read the full commentary on the Ottawa Citizen website, or below.

Ontario should revise discriminatory driving policy against refugees

By Samer Muscati and Petra Molnar

December 11, 2017

After a harrowing escape from the Syrian city of Aleppo and spending three years as refugees in Jordan, Shyesh al-Turki, his wife, and children completed their long journey to Canada last winter. Although he has found safety in his new home, he is unable to qualify for driving jobs.

Shyesh, 40, speaks wistfully of his work as an experienced truck driver before coming to Canada. He drove for years across Syria delivering crops, animals and equipment, and crisscrossed the region through neighbouring Jordan and Lebanon. “As a truck driver, I worked all over and I loved my work very much,” he says. “That’s why it hurts me every day that right now I can’t drive a truck and provide for my family. My job was so important to me and all I do is sit at home.”

Sunday marked the second anniversary of the first planeload of Syrian refugees arriving on Canadian soil. Despite welcoming them, Ontario’s government is preventing refugees such as Shyesh from getting driving jobs to support themselves and their families because of a provincial policy that forces them to wait a year before taking their G driving test.

The International Human Rights Program (IHRP) at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law is supporting Shyesh’s case before the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. His case alleges that Ontario’s government discriminated against him by effectively excluding experienced drivers from war-torn countries from an exemption to the driving-test waiting period available to other newcomers in Ontario and refugees in other provinces.

Shyesh says numerous employers were interested in hiring him but couldn’t because he lacked a G licence. His case is not unique. He is one of hundreds of refugees eager to work but restricted from many jobs by having to wait an extra year to get a full G licence.

Meanwhile, the Canadian trucking industry is struggling significantly to attract new drivers. A change in the Ministry of Transportation’s policy would fill the gap and provide more job opportunities for refugees.

In Ontario, all drivers are required to complete the graduated licensing program, which includes a written test and two driving exams. However, the province recognizes that newcomers often have prior driving experience, which applicants can declare for credit toward the graduated program.

Foreign drivers with more than 12 months’ experience can provide documentary evidence that they held a valid licence and can jump straight to the second driving test to get their full G licence. This evidence must be a written letter from a licensing agency, embassy, consulate or high commissioner’s office of the refugee’s country of origin.

However, refugees from war-torn countries often cannot access these documents. In cases of collapsed regimes or civil war, the relevant offices may not exist. Refugees also cannot return to their countries of origin for fear of their lives or of losing their refugee status in Canada.

Other provinces, including Alberta, Manitoba and British Columbia, only ask for further evidence showing past driving experience where the foreign driver’s licence lacks information such as issue date, photograph or date of birth. Ontario’s government should stop requiring letters authenticating foreign driving experience for refugees and instead rely upon a certified French or English translation of a valid foreign driver’s licence, like other provinces.

Revising Ontario’s discriminatory policy would have real-world impact on countless refugee families. “Syrian people like to work and we want to give back to Canada, a country that has given us so much already,” says Shyesh. “We want to pay back the generosity of inviting us to build a life here. I want to teach my children the importance of hard work and I want to set a good example as they participate fully in Canadian society. Right now, I can’t do that.”