Toronto Star
March 02, 2009

Joe Fiorito

You can open the door if you have a key; if you do not have a key, the only way you can get one is to open the door. That is the Law of Canadian Experience. The corollary: if you get a key, we will change the locks.

There are some people who would like to smash the damn door down, and so there was a conference on the subject of Canadian experience the other day.

In attendance were dozens of foreign-trained professionals – bankers, doctors and engineers from Russia, Venezuela and Pakistan – who are here, but not working in their professions.

The conference was fairly loosely organized. I like it like that. I hung around and talked. Sometimes I was embarrassed. Often, I was angry.


We lure highly skilled men and women here from other countries – to the detriment of those other countries – and when they arrive we do not let them work at what they were trained to do – to the detriment of us.


Case in point:

Dr. Phan Sok is from Cambodia. He is a specialist in infectious diseases, particularly HIV/AIDS. He is calmly intense, quietly handsome, fiercely smart and, at the moment, he is working in a grocery story in Richmond Hill.

How is that helpful?

In fact, the problem has its roots overseas, in our immigration offices. People who want to come to Canada are not told what to expect.

A banker named Arvid said, “When I applied I had to qualify. There are marks for experience, education and so on. You have to get 70 marks. I got 72. When I came here I found my degrees were worth nothing, useful only to work at Tim Hortons.”

I’ll have a double-double, with a heaping bread bowl full of credit risk analysis and some algorithms on the side.

In fact, Arvid is lucky, or perhaps he is very good – he applied for a banking job, and has an interview coming up.

But you take his point.

The primary purpose of the conference was for foreign professionals such as Phan and Arvid to pitch specific ideas of their own to combat the conundrum of Canadian experience.

A lot of smart people came with a lot of smart ideas, and so we broke up into a lot of groups for discussion.

Claudia, a Cuban-trained doctor from Colombia, wants to start an organization that could speak for, and lobby on behalf of, foreign-trained medical professionals.

She said, “I was famous in my country.” But she made some enemies in government back home. She said, “I came as a refugee.”

In Canada?

She slapped her backside saucily and said, “I have been cleaning the here of people. I have been a babysitter.”

Who, apart from the incontinent, benefits from that? And where are the internships and the observerships for doctors?

Among those in Claudia’s group was a pediatric heart specialist from Venezuela. He, too, is unable to get work. He is thinking of going back home.

Cui bono?

Another doctor at the meeting had once applied for a job as a health care worker. The answer was no, sorry, you are overqualified. The doctor then applied for work as a medical secretary and was told 30 words per minute wasn’t good enough and in any case where is the diploma in secretarial skills?

A final insult: the doctor could not get a job as a personal support worker; no experience, no qualifications.

Is it any wonder that a group was formed to discuss the mental health of immigrants?

There were many good ideas at the conference. I will tell you about a favourite of mine in the days ahead.

Reference: Toronto Star