Crisis in Ukraine: NL offers driving license equivalences for refugees

ST. JOHN’S, NL –

Newfoundland and Labrador offers provincial driver’s licenses to Ukrainian refugees, but not to refugees from other countries like Syria or Afghanistan – and experts say the exclusion should end.

Hassan Ahmad is an assistant law professor at the University of Ottawa who brought a case before the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario that ended the selective licensing of refugees from that province. He said denying provincial licenses to refugees from certain countries may deny them a chance to succeed in their new country.

“The ability to have independence in their conduct, but also the ability to look for certain jobs, is basically denied to refugees who can’t get the exemption that the Ukrainians got,” Ahmad said in an interview on Friday.

“The experience of refugees in Ukraine is no different from the experience of refugees in Syria or Afghanistan,” he added.

The government of Newfoundland and Labrador announced on Friday that newly arrived Ukrainians who hold a passenger vehicle or light truck driver’s license in their home country will be able to exchange it for a license from the province. They will not have to pass a driving test to qualify.

The government says it will also provide letters confirming Ukrainian driving history, which can be presented to insurance companies to obtain rates comparable to Newfoundland and Labrador drivers with similar experience.

The announcement comes as a second government-chartered plane is due to land in St. John’s on June 14 carrying what are expected to be more than 150 Ukrainians fleeing Russian attacks on their homeland. The first plane arrived on May 9, carrying 166 people.

Newfoundland and Labrador welcomed more than 100 refugees from Afghanistan last October, but they are not eligible for provincial driver’s licenses.

“Officials have assessed the equivalence of licenses from the other three most common countries of origin for refugees in the province over the past five years: Afghanistan, Syria and Eritrea,” Krista Dalton said Friday. , spokesperson for the Department of Digital Government. “Unfortunately, the requirements were not found to be equivalent.”

Ahmad, who has lived in Syria, said the reasoning can be challenged in multiple ways. He said a Ukrainian who has had a permit for five years but mostly rides the bus would qualify for a permit rather than an Afghan who drives the busy streets of Kabul every day.

“How do you know what kind of driving experience people had in their country?” Ahmad asked. “If you just think through it doesn’t hold up and you address the issues of, is there bias based on subjective factors, as opposed to any kind of objective evidence?”

Because of his case last summer before the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, that province now offers a full Ontario Class G permit to all refugees with a license from their home country if they sign an affidavit attesting to their driving history of at least two years and pass the provincial driving test, Ahmad said.

Tony Fang, an economics professor at Memorial University who studies the experiences of newcomers to Newfoundland and Labrador, says the province needs to treat newcomers from all countries the same and offer them the same services and benefits.

Newfoundland and Labrador needs immigrants, he said — until recently the province’s aging population of about 521,500 people was shrinking. The government hopes to welcome 5,100 new arrivals each year by 2026.

In such a sparsely populated province, transportation can be a deal breaker for newcomers, Fang said. Refugees from Ukraine reported that insurance companies charge more than $5,000 a year for car insurance, and Fang said refugees from Syria, Eritrea and Afghanistan charge the same. They deserve the same opportunities to drive those rates down, he said.

“We must have a level playing field for all immigrants and refugees,” Fang said.

High-profile efforts to resettle Ukrainians offer the provincial government an opportunity to re-examine its immigration and settlement services to ensure they truly serve everyone, he said.


This report from The Canadian Press was first published on June 10, 2022.

Christi C. Elwood