Renewed support and action are needed to allow all members of society equitable access to a driver’s licence, according to a discussion paper released Wednesday by the Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC).
While Indigenous community leaders have for many years identified a driver’s licence as a key to employment, well-being and safety, it is currently estimated up to 75 per cent of Indigenous people living on reserve do not hold a driver’s licence. That number is believed to be even higher in many coastal communities.
“One of the things in talking with UBCIC is that if we don’t tell the truth, we can’t fix the problem,” said Lucy Sager, founder of the All Nations Driving Academy in Terrace.
“… everything from the cost of a ride, to how many people are being incarcerated, and how the colonization of the driver’s licensing system that has existed for decades is hindering the success of Indigenous people.”
Sager identified several barriers to obtaining a driver’s licence, including identification, vision care, outstanding fines and residential school impacts.
Lack of access to a licence and transportation has led to increased hitchhiking along roadways including the section of Highway 16 between Prince George and Prince Rupert, known as the Highway of Tears where women, mostly Indigenous, have disappeared or been murdered.
Community members may even charge each other for rides in which the driver may not hold a valid class of licence. If a ride cannot be paid for in cash, the report said some have been forced to traffic their bodies or facilitate the trafficking of someone else. For an elder, the cost of a ride could be their prescription medications.
“For an Indigenous person, having the unobstructed ability to drive could mean the difference between life and death, criminalization and justice, and exploitation and freedom,” UBCIC secretary-treasurer Kukpi7 (Chief) Judy Wilson said in a news release.
“The MMIWG2S crisis continues to take the lives of our women and youth; Indigenous peoples continue to face criminalization, over-incarceration, and unemployment; elders and vulnerable members of our communities continue to be exploited and taken advantage of; and many people continue to be denied a licence simply because they cannot afford or access something as basic as eyeglasses.”
The report makes a total of 46 recommendations that have been endorsed by the UBCIC Chiefs Council, which wants the provincial government and ICBC to work with Sager and other like-minded organizations to implement them.
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.
The spokesperson said ICBC changed the permission documents for minors to include tribal council members. Learner’s knowledge test documents were also changed by replacing surname with last name to ensure the forms were completed correctly.
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.