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Human rights tribunal decision removes roadblock to employment for refugees

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May 19, 2020

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In a significant decision, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) found that Convention refugees should not face discriminatory barriers to accessing employment and contributing fully to Ontario society.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) intervened in Al-Turki v Ontario (Transportation), and the HRTO relied on the OHRC’s arguments and evidence in finding that Ontario’s driver’s licensing policy:

  • Discriminates against refugees based on place of origin, citizenship and ethnic origin
  • Perpetuates arbitrary disadvantage by imposing requirements based on conditions in the refugees’ home countries rather than individual merits
  • Exacerbates the already disadvantaged position of refugees by making it challenging to get their full driver’s licences in a timely manner 
  • Feeds into stereotypes that refugees cannot be trusted, enter Canada on false pretenses, and if they can’t find employment and remain on public assistance, are a “financial burden” for society.

The HRTO ordered the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) to immediately stop requiring refugees to get state authentication of their driving experience, and to develop and publicize a new non-discriminatory policy in accordance with the principles in the decision within six months of the COVID-19 Emergency Order ending.

Mr. Shyesh Al-Turki, a Syrian refugee, filed a claim at the HRTO alleging that the MTO allows certain foreign-licensed drivers to have their foreign driving experience credited in Ontario’s graduated licensing system if they get documentation from their originating countries, which refugees cannot produce. This requirement has forced many refugees, including Mr. Al-Turki, to wait a year before taking the road test to get their full Ontario licence. This has created a barrier to finding employment by eliminating their options for working as drivers, and has often forced them to remain on social assistance and pay higher insurance premiums.

In reaching its decision, the HRTO agreed with the OHRC position that the current driver’s licence policy is arbitrary and perpetuates historical disadvantage against refugees who are often poor, vulnerable and marginalized.

“This HRTO decision will allow refugees to obtain a full driver’s licence without discrimination and have earlier eligibility for jobs in trucking, ride-sharing and delivery services,” said OHRC Chief Commissioner Renu Mandhane. “We call on the Ontario government to ensure it identifies and removes all discriminatory barriers that prevent refugees from contributing fully to Ontario society.”

The OHRC will monitor the implementation of the remedy in this case.

Media contact:

Rosemary Parker
Manager, Communications & Issues Management
Ontario Human Rights Commission/Commission ontarienne des droits de la personne