The Ontario Human Rights Commission’s (OHRC) new policy on removing the “Canadian experience” barrier has been launched by Chief Commissioner Barbara Hall, in partnership with KPMG.
“Ontario attracts highly-skilled immigrants from all over the world,” commented Hall, “but if they have to meet a requirement for Canadian experience, they are in a very difficult position — they can’t get a job without Canadian experience and they can’t get experience without a job.
“In most cases, that is discrimination under Ontario’s Human Rights Code,” Hall said pointedly.
The OHRC found that many newcomers turn to unpaid work such as volunteering, internships or low-skilled “survival jobs” to meet the requirement for Canadian experience. They also face obstacles when trying to get professional accreditation since some regulatory bodies will not admit new members without prior work experience in Canada. As a result, they end up in jobs that do not correspond to their education, skills and experience.
The new policy sets out the OHRC’s position that a strict requirement for “Canadian experience” is discriminatory, and can only be used in rare circumstances. Employers and regulatory bodies need to ask about all of a job applicant’s previous work — where they got their experience does not matter. The policy also tells employers and regulatory bodies how to develop practices, policies and programs that do not result in discrimination.
“We welcome this new policy,” said Bill Thomas, Chief Executive Officer and Senior Partner, KPMG. “Businesses that invest in newcomers benefit from the skills and rich experience they have to offer and in return, become more competitive in today’s global economy.”
Last fall, the OHRC consulted newcomers to Canada in the last 10 years about their experiences looking for jobs in Ontario since their arrival, and employers or human resources representatives, who use “Canadian experience” as a job requirement. The OHRC also spoke with a number of organizations and individuals, including agencies serving newcomers, employers, government and regulatory bodies.
The issue of the Canadian experience requirement goes back to 1973, when a news article first cited it as a barrier for new immigrants to access jobs, said University of Toronto social work professor Izumi Sakamoto.
“Canada experience provides an overt label for a covert discomfort. We are uneasy around people who are not like us,” said Sakamoto, whose research focuses on the issue of Canadian experience.
“Employers really need to tease out what is at the core of the job requirements. We need to raise awareness how the term Canadian experience is used.”
With a degree in science and 13 years of experience working in administration and community development, Endrit Mullisi came to Canada in 2009 from Albania with his wife and daughter. Despite sending out hundreds of resumés, he got only three job interviews.
“We need to work towards changing the mentality of employers that Canadian experience is the only professional experience in the world that has high standards,” said Mullisi, who volunteered at a community agency for seven months before he got hired on a one-year contract.
“We need to work together to create a culture where people are valued based on what they can do and not if they did it in Canada or elsewhere.”
According to the province, 15 of the 38 regulated professions in Ontario currently require Canadian work experience. Six of them specifically ask for Ontario experience as part of the licensing criteria.
— With Torstar inputs