The New Brunswick government will now exchange the driver's licences of Ukrainian refugees — but some Black advocacy groups say the province should do the same for more countries outside Europe.
Drivers from 18 European countries as well as those from Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Republic of Korea and Taiwan can exchange their licences for New Brunswick licences.
The province recently added Ukraine to that list, a move Matthew Martin, the executive director of Black Lives Matter New Brunswick, said he fully supports.
"But, you know, as we're looking at being a province that focuses on being diverse and equitable and inclusive, to release a policy like this, it's really not inclusive," he said.
In a joint statement released on Aug. 4, Black Lives Matter New Brunswick, the New Brunswick African Association, the Nigerian-Canadian Association of New Brunswick and Conseil provincial des personnes d'ascendance africaine du Nouveau Brunswick, called for the government to extend the courtesy to all newcomers regardless of their country of origin.
The joint statement said the coalition had started talking with the government about expanding the policy. Martin said discussions are in the early stages but the government seems receptive.
When asked to confirm the discussions, Judy Désalliers, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice and Public Safety, said in an email,"We are continuously engaging with key partners — settlement agencies from around the province, employers, community organizations, the Red Cross, employment counsellors, etc. to ensure that newcomers are receiving the assistance they need so that they are properly set up to live and prosper in the province."
When asked if the government had considered providing a similar service to other refugees in recent years — such as those from Afghanistan — Désalliers said, "the province is always open to adding additional countries."
Licensing needs to be similar
For newcomers' licences to be accepted, their home country needs to have similar driver training and testing as New Brunswick, Désalliers said in her email.
Even using this system of evaluation, Martin said the government should still be doing more to simplify the process for newcomers who already know how to drive, like an exam focused on the differences between New Brunswick's driving laws and those in another country.
"To have drivers coming from other countries and completely restarting the process, just seems, you know, not very welcoming," Martin said.
In 2020, the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal ruled that province had been discriminating against certain refugees with its selective driver's licence waiting period exemptions. Hassan Ahmad, now an assistant professor in the Peter A. Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia, won the case on behalf of a Syrian refugee.
In Canada, without a car [there's] nothing to do. - Hanna Zenzina
He said policies like New Brunswick's can reinforce inequality in Canadian society.
"The fact that we're trying to look out for public safety, we don't want to expedite certain drivers who may not have the requisite driving experience, the intention might be laudable," Ahmad said.
"But the effect of it, what it's actually done is created a division between refugees or immigrants who come from European land, as opposed to immigrants and refugees who come from, historically, what's called the third world or the global south."
But the province's move to add Ukraine to the list is a relief to some of those who fled the war with Russia.
Hanna Zenzina used to live in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. She left the country on the ninth day of Russia's invasion and now lives in Moncton.
Despite having a driver's licence in Ukraine, she was anxious about having to pass a road test again.
"For most Ukrainians as well as for me, it was the greatest moment to understand that we can do that [obtain a driver's licence] without any additional tests and exams," she said. She said many Ukrainians struggle with English, making the prospect of earning a licence from scratch daunting.
"In Canada, without a car [there's] nothing to do," she said.
She's waiting for her new licence to come in the mail.
Her cousin, Vladyslav Konevshchynskyi, has been in Canada since 2013. In June, he launched Canadian Drivers College, a driving school offering courses in Ukrainian, Russian, Spanish and English.
He said the news was well received.
"Everyone was so happy, like, 'Oh, my God, oh my God, I can exchange my Ukrainian driver's licence, and I can get cheaper insurance. So that means I can buy a car. That means getting a better job,'" Konevshchynskyi said.