Racism in Hiring: Why “No Canadian Experience” is Unacceptable [Opinion]

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By Suzanne Sears, Best Retail Careers International Inc.

If we want to make meaningful change in ending racism in the workforce, we are forced to look at the unspoken, but nonetheless prevalent, racism in hiring and discrimination against newcomers to Canada.

As a Recruiter, I am often challenged with the issue of not being able to submit resumes for ‘New Canadians’ to employers, regardless of how extensive or relevant their education and experience is. I have found myself needing to argue with Human Resource professions as to why they should at least give new Canadians an interview.

As a blanket requirement, demanding Canadian experience is discriminatory and illegal under the Ontario Human Rights Code as well as other national legislation.


“Some employers may mistakenly believe that the only way for a job applicant to show that they “have what it takes” to be effective or “fit” in a Canadian workplace is to show that they already have experience working in Canada. These employers may think that a Canadian experience requirement can be used as a short-cut, or a proxy, to measure a person’s competence and skills. “Even where employers and regulatory bodies may be acting in good faith, a candidate’s Canadian experience, or lack thereof, is not a reliable way to assess a person’s skills or abilities. And, imposing requirements of this nature may contravene the Code. A requirement for Canadian experience, even when implemented in good faith, can be a barrier in recruiting, selecting, hiring or accrediting, and may result in discrimination.”

Human Resource leaders have the ability to right many of the wrongs regarding racism in the Canadian work field, starting by granting interviews to new Canadians. We are all familiar with the stories of fully qualified teachers, engineers, doctors, marketing professionals, financial analysts, etc., who are driving buses or taxis for no other reason other than the lack of Canadian credentials or experience. Credentials may take years to acquire, but Canadian “experience” may be impossible to achieve if no firm will hire newcomers in their speciality at their previous levels.

“In some cases, requiring applicants to have Canadian experience may be disguised discrimination, and a way to screen out newcomers from the hiring process.” – Ontario Human Rights Code


This lack of Canadian experience issue seems to be applied to more racialized populations rather than to white European newcomers. Experience gained in Britain, France, Germany, etc., is less often discounted as “irrelevant” to Canada than similar experience in India, Iran, Iraq, or the Philippines, for example. With education and experience nearly identical, a conclusion can be drawn that points to the ethnicity of the candidate.

80% of all immigrants come to Canada with post-secondary educations. That level continues to rise every year, yet their unemployment rate is nearly double that of native-born Canadians. Aboriginal people suffer about 5% higher unemployment rates than the rest of Canadians, but it is often attributed to the lack of jobs in the places they live. Whether this is entirely true or not is debatable.

The unemployment rate for immigrants of less than 5 years residency was 9.5% in 2019, while for Canadian born it was 5.7%. The total percentage of immigrants in the population is 5.9%, yet the unemployment rate for them, even 5 years of Canadian residency, was nearly double the rate for native Canadians.

Racism in the workplace is a constant and real battle for visible minorities.

“…the rule or standard itself must be as inclusive as possible of individual differences, rather than maintaining discriminatory standards with accommodation for those people who cannot meet them. Even then, there may still be a need to accommodate individual differences up to the point of undue hardship. This ensures that each person is assessed according to his or her own personal abilities instead of being judged against presumed group characteristics.” – Ontario Human Rights Code

This would mean assessing people on an individual basis, and would include considering non-Canadian experience and other qualifications. Candidates should be assessed on an individual basis rather than being screened out based on general rules.

All prior work experience should be assessed, regardless of where it was obtained. Employers should seek job-related qualifications — for example, the ability to plan a project and complete it to required timelines, or the ability to show familiarity with Canadian laws, industry norms or standards. Candidates should be given the opportunity to establish relevant skills and experience in a variety of ways. The essential question is, are they qualified to do the job?

Job ads, for example, should state clearly the specific skills and work experience that are required for each of the duties associated with the position, and job requirements must be related to the position.

While most Human Rights tribunals make it perfectly clear that an applicant should have a fair chance at every job, what they cannot mandate is employers accepting applications and interviewing new Canadians or other racial groups.

In some cases a person’s name is a giveaway to their nationality. My tests as a Recruiter have shown that submitting a resume with a “foreign” name vs. without has a definite impact on the number of interviews granted for that candidate.

Many do not realize that the only legitimate question when hiring is, “are you eligible to work in Canada” No other nationality based question is legal.

Human Resource leaders have a duty to not only ensure that new Canadian workers obtain an interview, but also receive a fair chance at being hired. It is up to Human Resource leaders to enforce the legal standards, and ensure compliance of provincial and Canadian Human Rights Codes. It’s not enough to have the policy anymore. Thorough training and hiring managers to report on progress and accountability for eliminating racism in your organization is now recommended.


  1. Remove Name Bias: Applicant tracking systems (ATS) should be blind. They do not need a candidates name. No name required, and assign each candidate a number before you make contact automatically after they submitted your applicant form;
  2. Remove Address Bias: ATS systems do not require candidate addresses prior to hiring: eliminate this entirely;
  3. Remove Brand Bias: Brand bias is a huge part of racial bias in hiring. Those who do or have worked for big North American brands are far more likely to receive an interview than those who did not. Most interviewers feel it is critical to know the “brand” a candidate worked for prior to outreach. A “black out” of the name of corporation prior to reviewing the skill stack should be the initial application, specific work experience can be covered in the interview;
  4. Remove Educational Bias: It is not essential to know which school a candidate attended, or which year they graduated. Eliminate the space for the school name and date they attended. The school name can indicate North American experience vs. foreign; and the date requirement creates an age bias. All that is required is the credentials acquired (eg. Masters Degree);
  5. Remove Skill Lists: Instead of vague job descriptions that list things like “able to inspire teams”, “able to multitask”, the skill stack should be specific — intermediate level of excel, able to lead up to 50 people, etc;
  6. Stop defining jobs by arbitrary experience levels such as 3 years of this, 10 years of that. Adopt consistent standards — entry level, junior, intermediate, and senior. This is not necessarily a racist issue specifically, but it is also a huge part of discrimination overall for candidates;
  7. Ensure ATS forms only permit jobs that go back no more than 10 years;
  8. Remove all references to citizenship status and replace with: “Are you eligible to work in Canada?”

According to the Toronto Census profile for 2019, out of 6.2 million people in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), 49% are visible minorities. Bottom line: If you want the best candidates, you can no longer afford to ignore 49% of the potential talent pool. As Canada continues to become increasingly multicultural with 300,000 immigrants arriving annually, considering out-of-country experience will be crucial.

My firm, Best Retail Careers International, launched a recruit-by-membership program to help the industry retain the best talent. For luxury retailers, we also launched Luxury Careers Canada which is working with the top brands and retailers, and features a job board with available positions. We have access to over 50,000 potential candidates directly and even more through word-of-mouth.

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