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Dr. Cab Driver


The underemployed immigrant is a media trope about newcomers to Canada.


Yes, this is terrible, but are there grounds for not recognizing foreign credentials here?


by Peter Carter photo by Ruth Kaplan


OME YEARS AGO, if you dropped in for a double- double at the Tim Hortons near the Eaton Centre in downtown Toronto, odds are you had your java poured by Cecilia Baetu. And if you happened to ask about her academic background, she would


have replied, “I’m a mechanical engineer.” Working beside her was her husband, Mihai. His answer


would have been, “Economist.” They had just arrived from Romania with their degrees and


daughter, Teona, in tow. And they immediately started down the path worn smooth by millions of immigrants before them. They took jobs they were way overqualified for. Baetu admits that the first years in Canada were gruelling and demanded lean rations. But none of it came as a surprise. “We knew what we were getting into,” she says. “My English


was very bad. On the test I got two. Mihai got 4.5 out of a pos- sible 12.” “We knew we would probably start out by working at


McDonald’s,” she laughs, adding, “We didn’t know about Tim Hortons.” Romanian engineers working the Timmies drive-thru.


Guyanese school teachers cleaning hotel rooms. Nigerian- trained biochemists staffing Green-P lots. As author and critic


44 | CPA MAGAZINE | JUNE/JULY 2016


Nick Noorani, chair of the Panel on Employment Challenges of New Canadians, wryly puts it, “If you want to find a doctor in Toronto, don’t call an ambulance — call a taxi.” It’s no myth: a 2012 study commissioned by Citizenship and Immigration Canada cleverly titled Who Drives a Taxi in Can- ada? shows that taxi driving has “become an occupation high- ly concentrated with immigrants in Canada.” Two out of four taxi drivers in Canada are immigrants. “A full 6,040 taxi drivers [12%] held a bachelor’s or master’s degree, the majority of them [80.7%] being immigrants.” To many people, those statistics are a huge indictment of


our world-renowned immigration system. “If an immigrant fails,” Noorani says, “Canada fails. Can-


ada takes immigrants in so they can be an economic advan- tage to us. By taking somebody who is highly qualified and making them a taxi driver we are taking away their self-esteem and their self-respect. Frankly, it’s not the Canadian way. We are also taking away from the source countries someone who is contributing economically and socially. Is that what we want to be doing?” It hurts Canada too. A CIBC World Markets report esti-


mated that immigrant underemployment is costing the Canadian economy $20 billion a year because people with


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