Immigrant groups in Quebec question fairness of driver's exam translations

Quebec's Automobile Insurance Board says it will make changes to part of its driver's licence exam after some immigrant groups complained it was too difficult to pass.

SAAQ to make changes after different immigrant groups complain of tough, confusing written test

Dépanneur owner Saroj Kumar Chhetri says he's heard dozens of customers complain about failing the SAAQ's written theory exam, partly because the questions weren't clear. (Catou McKinnon/CBC)

Quebec's Automobile Insurance Board says it will make changes to part of its driver's licence exam after some immigrant groups complained it was too difficult to pass.

According to the SAAQ's statistics, about 70 to 80 per cent of francophones passed the written theory exam for a driver's licence in the last five years.

That success rate drops to 48 per cent for Spanish speakers and 38 per cent for Arabic speakers, according to statistics from January 2015 to September 2016.

Quebec City shopowner Saroj Kumar Chhetri says he's heard dozens of customers complain about failing the SAAQ's written theory exam.

Chhetri opened his dépanneur two years ago mostly for newcomers looking for clothes, toys and food from their home countries.

He said many of his customers have told him the exam questions weren't clear.

"They are using like a Google translator. So it doesn't give the sense," said 

Without a driver's licence, many immigrants have a harder time finding jobs and decide to leave Quebec altogether, Chhetri says.

Some of the same people who failed the written test in Quebec, he added, passed it in other provinces.

"The same guys, they are having a licence out in Ontario and they're driving and they're happy," he said.

SAAQ looking to make changes

After receiving several complaints, the SAAQ said it will now review its written theory exam in the next several months.

Spokesman Gino Desrosiers said staff will be looking into whether the test is "too long" or "too administrative" in order to simplify the questions and write them using everyday words.

Currently, the written test can be taken in five languages: French, English, Spanish, Arabic and Mandarin.

Desrosiers said the SAAQ is unsure whether the low success rate for some groups has to do with culture or the language itself.

For people who took the test in Mandarin last year, for example, the success rate was 72 per cent.

Though the SAAQ offers the help of translators in 20 languages, those services are only available in Montreal. 

Chhetri hopes the changes to the exam will encourage more immigrants to stay in Quebec City. 

With files from Catou McKinnon