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Spectrum » Society

Posted at: Apr 29, 2018, 1:18 AM; last updated: Apr 29, 2018, 1:18 AM (IST)

... elsewhere in Canada, a difficult drive

Assured money and lack of job opportunities make immigrants pick driving as a profession. It is, however, not peril proof

Peeyush Agnihotri

“Need a doctor, call a cab —chances are the driver may have been a qualified medico in his home country” is a wry condescending gag that has done rounds on snow-fatigued Canadian streets since long. A banal statement that is all in one — a racist rant, a bluster on foreign credential evaluation and a terse commentary on long waiting hours in any Canuck medical facility. This unfortunate situation was even made the central theme of 2014 flick, Dr Cabbie.

A Citizenship and Immigration Canada (now IRCC) 2012 publication: “Who drives a Taxi in Canada” by Li Xiu supplements this harsh reality with statistics and bar charts, narrowing down to the specificities. “Immigrants from India, Pakistan, Lebanon, Haiti and Iran were significantly overrepresented among immigrant taxi drivers. Among 1,525 taxi drivers with Master’s degrees, 25.3 per cent had degrees from India. Among 255 PhD and MD taxi drivers, 70.6 per cent were foreign trained, of which 19.4 per cent had degrees from India.”

Over-qualified, under-employed in Canada yet zest for life remains undiminished amongst immigrants. Many South Asians have carved a niche for themselves by taking to the wheels — be it a humble cab, a robust semi, a dump truck, a school transport or a city transit bus.

Many from the community, who have taken up this profession, say it is recession proof. Canada, like any other country has gone through the cycles of downturns and booms over the past many years, yet somehow the business of driving holds in good stead. The money flow is constant (was big time in trucking), though it has reduced over the past few years.

Then there are qualified others, who want to get into, what are called, regulated professions in Canada (doctors, lawyers, teachers, dentists — they need to pass through the dreaded foreign credential evaluation labyrinth). The red-tapism gets better of them mid-way and they either give up entirely or take to the wheels to supplement their educational costs.

The third category are the moonlighters — They have a stable job yet have taken up ride licences (Uber, etc.) to make some extra bucks during time off or weekends.

True, sometimes the community is scoffed at for having special affinity for the wheels. Remember, how minister Amarjeet Sohi was laughed at in House of Commons last year, when he recounted his Edmonton bus driving days. Or another very prominent politician was mistaken for a cab driver despite being born and raised here in Canada.

The point is why diss driving profession? It’s honest money, coming from hard toil and sweat, sustaining livelihood of individuals, supporting families and making national economy move forward.

A research by Uber on driver-partner demographics in the US suggested that 50 per cent of them are married and 25 per cent were financially supporting parents and other relatives. Further, 48 per cent had college or an advanced educational degree. Come think of it. Is driving that bad as a profession?

However, not all is a bed of roses. Semi-truck drivers face isolation being on long routes, away from the families, cab drivers are subject to all kinds of anti-social street elements and transit drivers face messed-up daily schedules. And if the amount of money earned is divided by the number of hours and operational costs subtracted, what is left is barely equivalent to minimum wage. Money is drying up in this profession. Further, constant seating and braking on heavy machinery takes its toll on lower back and body metabolism. Health issues plague most of the drivers and the onset of ageism is accelerated.

But heart does bleed when a road accident is lent a them-vs-us colour, just as in the case of the Saskatchewan tragedy, where a promising hockey team was wiped out. Very tragic, but why paint the entire community with a monochromatic brush. Same parameters are never applied when other road tragedies happen. Recount the unfortunate case of cab operator from the South Asian community and his passenger, who lost their lives to a drunk driver in Calgary in 2015.

A tragedy is a tragedy and even if a first-generation immigrant is involved, let’s not label it as typical of his background. 

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