News / Winnipeg

Punjabi-speaking drivers file discrimination lawsuit against Manitoba Public Insurance

They were notified in September that they would need to re-pass new written, road and airbrake tests in Manitoba by Nov. 6.

Members of the Sikh community gather at Millennium Library Park on Smith St. to speak out about the alleged discrimination.

Supplied

Members of the Sikh community gather at Millennium Library Park on Smith St. to speak out about the alleged discrimination.

Parminder Singh was supposed to get married next month, but then he got a letter from Manitoba Public Insurance.

He’s one of 23 Punjabi-speaking truck drivers who has filed an application with the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench alleging discrimination by Manitoba Public Insurance (MPI). The group of drivers had all received Manitoba Class 1F truck driving licences following a transfer from Ontario, where they passed the necessary tests, a statement from the group said.

They were notified in September that they would need to retake new written, road and airbrake tests in Manitoba by Nov. 6.

Singh said he had once taken a knowledge test in Manitoba, but failed. He later moved to Toronto, but moved back, transferring his licence, which he’s had for three years. He works as a truck driver and says the potential to lose his licence, if he fails the tests, puts his livelihood at risk.

“I was about to get married next month, married in India… and we bought plane tickets six months ago. And now we received this MPI letter to do everything again,” Singh said.

“If I lose my licence I will have no job when I come back, so now everything is on hold.”  

The lawyer representing the truck drivers, Paul Hesse of Pitblado Law, says the move from MPI appears to be an act of discrimination “because the only people we know of at this point who’ve been affected are born in India, are of Punjabi background … and of Sikh faith.”  

Most of the 23 drivers involved in the lawsuit have had their licences for between one and three years, Hesse said. He added that MPI asked the drivers to recertify largely because they either failed a test in Manitoba before going to Ontario and passing, or got into an accident in Manitoba and later obtained an Ontario licence.

“The factors that MPI is trying to rely on all existed on the date when they obtained their Manitoba licences,” he said.  

“The law allowed for the drivers licences to be issued… it’s not reasonable or fair to say ‘You’re all going to lose your licences on Nov. 6,’” Hesse said.

He added that he hasn’t heard of any issues or accidents involving the drivers in question that are truck-related since they got their licences.

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for MPI said "a number of commercial class drivers licensed outside of Manitoba have been notified that they are required to recertify to Manitoba Class One driver testing standards" and that it's in accordance with the Drivers and Vehicles Act.

“This action is not based on race or ethnicity but rather to address public safety concerns and the Corporation’s obligation to enforce Manitoba driver testing and licensing standards as Administrator of The Drivers and Vehicles Act," the statement reads.

The spokesperson would not comment on the specific case, as it's under investigation.

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