Ontario Should Revise Discriminatory Policy Against Refugee Drivers

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December 11, 2017

Allow experienced drivers from war-torn countries to skip driving-test waiting period similar to other newcomers in Ontario

Toronto, ON – Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation should revise its policy and allow experienced drivers from war-torn countries to skip the one-year waiting period before their final driving tests – an exemption available to other newcomers in Ontario as well as refugees in other provinces, the International Human Rights Program at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law (IHRP) said today.

Under the current policy, the Government of Ontario is discriminating against refugees from Syria and other conflict zones by effectively excluding them from an exemption to the one-year waiting period between a novice driver’s licence (“G2”) and a full graduated licence (“G”) for experienced drivers.

This week marks the second anniversary of the first planeload of Syrian refugees arriving on Canadian soil, and Ontario’s government continues to prevent them from getting driving jobs to support themselves and their families because of this discriminatory policy,” said Samer Muscati, director of the IHRP. “The provincial government needs to step up and implement policies similar to other provinces to allow experienced refugee drivers the ability to immediately test for a full licence.

The IHRP is providing support to litigator Hassan Ahmad who has brought a case before the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario on behalf of Shyesh Al-Turki, a Syrian refugee who worked as a truck driver before resettling to Canada with his wife and children in 2016. The case, expected to be heard in early 2018, alleges the Ontario government has discriminated against Mr. al-Turki by forcing him to wait a year before taking his G driving test. 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.  Refugees who cannot work rely on taxpayers through government assistance or the goodwill of their sponsors. G2 licences are also subject to higher insurance premiums, creating an additional financial burden.

In Ontario, new drivers are required to complete the graduated licencing program, which begins with a written exam to obtain a G1 licence. To proceed to the G2 licence, a new driver must complete a year of supervised driving experience followed by a driving exam. Another year of driving experience is required before being eligible for the full G license driving exam.

Ontario recognises that newcomers often have prior driving experience, which applicants can declare for credit toward the graduated program. Under the Highway Traffic Act, applicants can obtain up to 12 months of credit by providing a self-declaration of the foreign-licensed driving experience. For credit of more than 12 months, and thereby an exemption to the graduated process, applicants are required to provide documentary evidence that they held a valid driver’s licence for at least 24 months out of the past three years. All applicants must still pass a second driving exam to get a full G licence.

Under Ministry of Transportation policy, documentary evidence is limited to written authentication from the originating licensing agency, or from the embassy, consulate or high commissioner’s office, of the refugee’s country of origin.  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 require documentary evidence regarding past driving experience where the foreign driver’s licence lacks requisite information, such as issue date, photograph, or date of birth. On the other hand, Ontario requires written authentication that is in many cases impossible to obtain from war zones and countries in conflict.

The IHRP urges the Ontario government to remove the requirement of written authentication of foreign driving experience for refugees. Instead, it should only require a certified French or English translation of a valid foreign driver’s licence.

The Canadian trucking industry is struggling significantly to attract new driver. Trucking HR Canada, a non-profit that supports the trucking industry in meeting human resources issues, has asked Ontario’s government to ease restrictions to allow more drivers to become licenced for truck driving and created a set of manuals for the industry to support the training of Syrian refugee drivers. A change in the Ministry of Transportation’s policy would fill the gap and provide more job opportunities for refugees. The Ontario government should be proactive and revise its discriminatory policy now rather than wait for the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario’s decision in Mr. al-Turki’s case.

“Being unable to drive and support my family has been a huge burden on me,” says Mr. al-Turki. “By having to wait a year before taking the test for a full G licence, I am left sitting at home and unable to provide for my wife and children. I want to contribute to Canada and participate fully in society. Right now, I can’t do that.”

 

Ontario’s current policy is discriminatory and may be in breach of Canada’s international legal obligations including provisions in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and the International Labour Organization’s Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention.

AVAILABLE FOR COMMENT IN TORONTO

Samer Muscati, IHRP Director: s.muscati@utoronto.ca; +1 416-946-8730

Petra Molnar, IHRP Research Associate: petra.molnar@utoronto.ca; +1 416-946-8229, 1-647-967-4954

Hassan Ahmad, lawyer for Mr. Shyesh Al-Turki: hahmad@kmlaw.ca; +1 416-595-2097

Omar Khan, refugee advocate: omar.khan@gmail.com; +1 647-773-4112

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