We winced when we heard about the Indigenous heavy-equipment operator who drives a long way to and from work every day — with no driver’s licence and thus with no insurance.
We were not surprised, though, as in many Indigenous communities in B.C., the number of people with driver’s licences is well below 50 per cent; and in some, as few as five per cent are licensed. Compare that with 75 per cent in BC over-all.
Licences are essential for First Nations people to get work, especially in remote and northern regions. And we see employers insisting on applicants having a licence, even if the job itself will not involve driving.
The worrisome issue is firmly out in the open again, thanks to the Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) and Lucy Sager, founder of the All Nations Driving Academy.
The UBCIC has released a discussion paper by Ms. Sager that says in part:
“For many years, the leadership of Indigenous communities have identified a driver’s license as a key barrier to meaningful employment and the inequity in access to a driver’s license continues to impact the ongoing safety of Indigenous women and girls as well as access to traditional territories.
“In recent months the challenges around drivers licensing have been exacerbated further by the COVID-19 pandemic and require greater attention on behalf of the BC Government.”
Indeed, Sager notes: “During 2020, COVID greatly impacted the access of road tests throughout the province as testing was cancelled for over 5 months. During this time, over 55,000 tests were cancelled and new drivers were backlogged, resulting in lost jobs and increased unlicensed driving.”
Road tests were resumed, but: “It has become apparent in recent months that if you have resources like transportation, accommodation, a credit card, a rental car, Wi-Fi and a computer or cell phone, you may be first in line for a road test. Meanwhile if you do not have these resources, you may never even know the driving examiner was in your community let alone have the means to access a driver’s license.”
Sager goes on to outline such roadblocks for First Nations in BC as these:
- “To obtain a driver’s license, you must present a piece of primary ID and secondary ID. . . . When living in a remote community without access to transportation, obtaining primary ID may not be possible in some cases.”
- “The cost of acquiring the class 7L license for the average British Columbian is $25. The cost for a community member from the Gitxaala Nation in travel and lost wages may result in costs of up to $800.00 for the same driver’s license
- “In March of 2020, during a driving program in Old Masset, several young women failed the eye exam and were not permitted to write their class 7L exam until they had their eyes checked and were issued glasses. This led to people in their 20s writing tests in outdated glasses they were issued when they were 11 years old, and community members scrambling to borrow glasses in order to have the opportunity to earn their drivers license.
- “Outstanding fines . . . can cause a driver’s license to be withheld before a community member can write their class 7L test. Many jobs in remote communities require a driver’s license, however if you are unable to get a job because you do not have a license, it becomes impossible to pay your fine.”
The discussion paper adds: “The work that is required to allow all members of society equitable access to a driver’s license, requires not only renewed support and action from ICBC but from a wide collection of ministries.”
And the paper makes 46 recommendations, including:
- “1. The Government will mandate relevant cultural competency training for all employees and those representing ICBC through appointed agents. The training will delve into and contribute to a better understanding of the history of drivers licensing for Indigenous Peoples and the Truth and Reconciliation Report.
- “2. ICBC will improve communication to Indigenous communities on road test availability and take into account dates and events of cultural relevance in the region when scheduling. Priority testing spaces will be given to those from the community. . . .”
ICBC’s response to the discussion paper included this in The Prince George Citizen:
“An ICBC spokesperson said ICBC has been meeting and working with Sager since 2018 and is committed to working with Indigenous communities and Indigenous-operated driving schools to improve the delivery of insurance and driver licensing services across the province.
“In 2019 ICBC worked on removing several top barriers impacting Indigenous people from obtaining a driver’s license. . . .
“Other changes included allowing students travelling a great distance to take a learner’s test to retake it once that same day if they had failed. As many remote communities do not have windshield repair facilities, ICBC also modified the rules around broken windshields allowing the vehicle to be used during the road test as long as the driver could see well.
“ICBC is on track to have equipment that will allow them to deliver their services to remote areas, rather than having people come to one of their offices, operational by 2022, the ICBC spokesperson added.”
The push for action the licensing issue is supported by the First Nations LNG Alliance.
Alliance director Clifford White says: “Having a driver’s licence is critical to the success of Indigenous peoples, especially in the light of Reconciliation.
“We are at a point of Indigenous peoples engaging in skills training, higher education and employment opportunities, which sets them up for independence, self-reliance, and proactively engaged with our socio-economic prospects.
“Driver’s licences are one of the essential skills for success. This provides Indigenous peoples with the opportunity to bring the children safely to daycare; transit their family to medical appointments, educational institutions, and their places of work; even before heading off to work themselves.
“Without a driver’s licence one is doomed to failure, loss of jobs, constantly being late, and potentially ending up in prison.
“We all need to do our part in ensuring that the pathway to Reconciliation is set up for success, and whatever driver’s training opportunities that we can provide to indigenous peoples is a win/win for everyone.”
- Indigenous leaders call for driver’s licence barrier to come down: https://bit.ly/39Qxc7U
- First Nations seek removal of roadblocks in B.C.’s driver’s licensing system: https://bit.ly/3dCXWKa
- Ontario G1 driver’s licence test now available in 3 Indigenous languages: https://bit.ly/3rSpMHe
(Posted here 02 April 2021)