Ontario Tribunal to Hear Case on Discrimination Against Refugee Drivers

Friday, August 24, 2018

Provincial government should allow experienced drivers from war-torn countries to skip driving-test waiting period similar to other newcomers, says IHRP 

Toronto, August 24th, 2018 — The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario will hear a case today that argues the province is discriminating against refugees by not allowing experienced drivers from war-torn countries exemptions to the one-year waiting period before their final driving tests - an option available to other newcomers in Ontario as well as refugees in other provinces.

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

“Ontario’s new government should change this needless discriminatory policy that affects some of the most vulnerable members of our society – refugees from war-torn countries,” said Samer Muscati, director of the International Human Rights Program (IHRP) at the University of Toronto. “By changing course and implementing a policy similar to other provinces, Ontario will not only be assisting refugees but also supporting its economy and the trucking industry.”

The IHRP is supporting litigator Hassan Ahmad who has brought the case before the Tribunal on behalf of Shyesh Al-Turki, a Syrian refugee who drove for about 15 years in Syria before resettling to Canada with his wife and children.The Ontario Human Rights Commission is intervening on constitutional grounds, highlighting the far-reaching importance of these issues. The case is expected to last approximately one week spread over the autumn months.

The case argues that 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. In regular circumstances, another year of driving experience is required before being eligible for the full G license driving exam.

Ontario recognizes 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 have held a valid driver’s licence in their home country for at least 24 months out of the past three years. All applicants must still pass a second driving exam to obtain a full G licence.

Under the Ministry of Transportation’s 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 or approach an embassy or consulate 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 license lacks requisite information, such as issue date, photograph, or date of birth. On the other hand, Ontario requires written authentication that is practically impossible to obtain from war zones and countries in conflict. This contradicts a previous Ontario government policy promulgated in1999 that allowed refugees from Kosovo to swear an affidavit to attest to their driving experience.

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 licensed as truck drivers. It created a set of manuals for the industry to support the training of Syrian refugee drivers. Today’s case before the Tribunal 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 license to fill the gap and provide more job opportunities for refugees.

“Changing this policy will help a lot of people find work. Driving is very important for so many refugees and it allows us be productive,” says Mr. al-Turki. “For me, Canada is a very good country, characterized by safety, tolerance and love. The people are kind and helpful. I would like to pay back Canada and be able to work.”

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.


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