Province is discriminating against refugees by not allowing experienced drivers from war-torn countries to skip driving-test waiting period similar to other newcomers
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.”
December 10th, 2017, marks the second anniversary of the first planeload of Syrian refugees arriving on Canadian soil. Despite welcoming them, Ontario’s government is preventing refugees like 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 because of his vast truck driving experience 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. 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 has 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.
In Ontario, all drivers are required to complete the graduated licencing program, which includes a written test and two driving exams. However, the province recognises 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. This is not the case for many foreign licences, including those from Syria. Ontario’s 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. As such, the 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. Ontario’s government should be proactive and revise the discriminatory policy now rather than wait for the tribunal’s decision in Shyesh’s case.
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.”
Samer Muscati is the Director of the International Human Rights Program, University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law. Petra Molnar is a Lawyer and Research Associate with the Program.