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We Teach Driving Like Your Life Depends On It

Getting B.C. license not easy for refugees

August 22, 2016

By Steve Wallace
Times Colonist, August 19th 2016

Motorists drive by as smoke rises from a bombing site in Aleppo, Syria. In helping Syrian refugees prepare for road tests, Steve Wallace noticed some common habits picked up from driving in a war zone, such as glancing at the tops of buildings to look for snipers.

Here is an example of frustration that comes from a simple act of kindness.

Adult Syrian refugees need their B.C. driver’s licences in order to be employable and to do all sorts of important things essential to ordinary family life.

Since I had significant experience with the Vietnamese refugee situation decades ago, it seemed only natural to volunteer my expertise and experience to Syrian
families in a similar situation.

The roughly two dozen Syrians in the group already had driver’s licences from their own country.
How they got them is another topic altogether. Suffice to say, there was a degree of fraud involved, as is the case in most countries in that region.
Despite this, they were relatively experienced, skillful and safe drivers, although they did some strange things along the way. Many drove very fast.

This type of high-speed driving served them well in a war zone.
During our driving sessions, they glanced at the tops of buildings.
It took me a while to figure out that they were looking for threats from possible snipers.
Avoiding rough road surfaces was another trait that a few refugees demonstrated. You guessed it.

These drivers were accustomed to identifying possible explosive devices on the roads they frequently traveled.
To get a B.C. licence, you just need to pass a theory and practical driving test. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

These are seasoned drivers. How difficult can it be?
Predictably, the driving task was the least of their worries. Driving slower, stopping completely, shoulder checks, scanning and attention to school and playground zones became their credo.

They fit into traffic very well.
Enter B.C., otherwise known as Bureaucratic Columbia.
The Syrian licence is only valid for 90 days from entry to Canada.
Within that time, these refugees must attain a B.C. class 5 interim driver’s licence.

Most do not speak English.
The federal documents necessary for a driving test are often delayed past this 90-day period, when their Syrian licences are no longer valid.
They are not then legally permitted to prepare for the practical road test.
They must arrange and pay for a provincially certified translator.
In smaller communities, Arabic translators are not available.

Headphones and other help is not always offered. One candidate failed the theory test 12 times at a government agent’s office.
This candidate was struggling with literacy in his own language, as well as English.
The fact that it took weeks and months after the Syrian licence had expired for the licence seeker to finally qualify on a theory test, without much help from authorities, is deplorable.

You would think a staff member would notice the problem and step up to the plate.
ICBC is blameless in this case. They contract services from the B.C. Service Centre.
No licence is issued until federal original documents, not copies, are provided.

It takes time to get these documents, often long after the Syrian licence has expired.
No practice driving is permitted in the interim.
There is usually a further two-month wait for a practical driving-test appointment to be available.
That is another unnecessary obstacle that will be the stuff of a future column.

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