Driven Crazy

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Just a warning... this blog post is likely to become somewhat of a cranky rant, and I suspect will be quite long. If that sort of thing interests you, great, read on. But if not, you might as well skip this post... nothing to see here folks, move along. If you're an exchange teacher coming to Canada, you'll find a short summary at the bottom of this post. I suggest you read it.

First, let me point out that motor registries don't have a good reputation. It's little wonder when Simpson's creator Matt Groening wanted to create the perfect stereotype for Homer's lazy sisters-in-law, Patty and Selma, he created them as ignorant, chain smoking drones who worked at the Springfield Department of Motor Vehicles. I'd like to think that the stereotype of motor registries as bumbling, bureaucratic and ignorant was purely for comic effect, but alas I've been finding that it's all too true.

The story began back in Australia, before I left for Canada, and was based on a simple question... what do I need to do to legally drive in Canada for the year I'm here? You would think that should be a fairly simple question, one with a fairly definitive answer. I'd heard that an International Driving Permit was all that was required, but I'd also heard that some Australian exchangees were told to get a local Ontario license. I wanted to know, one way or the other, what I needed to do.

Let me preface this whole thing by saying that under normal circumstances, an Australian who moves to Ontario and wants to drive here can do so using his or her Australian license but only for a period of 60 days, after which time they are required by law to get a local Ontario license. Alternatively, they could bring an International Driving Permit which entitles them to drive here for 12 months, but there was also some contention about whether an exchange teacher living in Canada for 12+ months would still have their International permit recognised by the Canadian authorities after 60 days. A simple question, I thought. Apparently not a simple answer.

So back in January, just before we left Sydney, I rang the local Ministry of Transport of Ontario registry here in Oakville, and spoke to a reasonably helpful lady who did her very best to give me the right advice which was unfortunately all completely wrong. She was adamant that I DID indeed need to get an Ontario license after 60 days in Canada, and ALSO get an International Driving Permit as well. I blogged about this at the time. I even recorded the call. I'm not making this up.

On arrival in Oakville, I visited the local MTO in Cross St, Oakville, and managed to speak to the very same lady I'd Skyped from Australia only a few days before. She directed me to the nearby DriveTest centre. It seems that the Ontario government has outsourced their driver licensing to private enterprise and it is managed by this mob called DriveTest. So off I went. Upon my arrival, I was seen to by another nice lady who again confirmed that I would indeed need to get a local Ontario license because I was staying here for longer than 60 days, so I paid my $75 application fee for my G1 (learner's permit) and got started on passing my tests. I had to buy a local driving rules book, and pay a $10 fee to sit a local driving rules knowledge test. I also booked in to do a driving test, which would hopefully take me from my G1 to a full G license and make me a fully certified Ontario driver.

I ended up failing my first driving test... despite the fact that I stuck strictly to the speed limits, including the advisory signs, the guy said I drove too slowly. How the hell can you fail a driving test by driving too slowly! Especially when his idea of driving too slowly was to actually observe all the speed limits! Thoroughly pissed off, I went back into the DriveTest centre to rebook another test and this time got served by a different person. As she looked at my documentation, she said "Why are you trying to get an Ontario license when you have an International Driving Permit?" She then explained to me that her understanding was that the IDP was valid for a full 12 months and I could quite legally drive on it all year. I told her I'd been told a different story (more than once) I asked her to check this with someone else in the registry office. She did, but they disagreed with her and insisted I would in fact need to obtain an Ontario license. I eventually escalated this to the manager, who after a long discussion agreed that yes, the IDP would be more than adequate for 12 months of driving in Canada.

Because I had already spent $85 to get a license so far, and I still didn't have one, and now I was told that my IDP (which cost me $50 back in Australia) was quite adequate to cover my driving for the year, I didn't pursue the Ontario license any further. I couldn't see any point throwing good money after bad, and if the IDP would do the trick then so be it, I'd stick with the IDP.

Bear in mind that at this point in the story, I now have BOTH an International Driving Permit AND an Ontario G1 license. No problem I thought. The IDP is my legal license and the G1 will make a nice souvenir of my travels.

Just to make sure I wasn't being sold a pup, I got home from the DriveTest centre and rang the MTO hotline enquiry number. I told the whole story to him, and the guy agreed that the IDP would be fine. I asked if he could also just doublecheck that with someone else, and after a few minutes on hold, he returned to say that he spoke to his manager who thought that the IDP would NOT cover me after 60 days and that I'd need a local license after all. I asked which section of the Highway Traffic Act covered this and he eventually referred me to section 15 (I think it was). I found a copy of the HTA on the Internet and after reading it I was still none the wiser.

Back to the DriveTest centre for another clarification on whether I needed a local license. Was again told "Yes you do" by one person and "No you don't" by another. I'd had an absolute gutful of this nonsense by this stage, and since it appeared that out insurance company was going to be more than happy with the International Permit, I decided to say stuff it all and just go with the IDP.

So for the last 12 months I've been driving on my International Permit. I haven't had any trouble, never been pulled up or asked to present it, so there's been no issue.


My IDP expires on January 12, one full year from the day I got it in Sydney. I will be in Canada until January 22. That leaves a 10 day period of being technically unlicensed, and of course you need to be licensed to have valid insurance. So, masochist that I am, I went back to the DriveTest centre last week to see what I needed to do. My plan was to sit the G1 to G2 test, thereby upgrading my G1 license to a proper one, covering my ass for the 10 days, and giving me an Ontario license for 5 years in case I get back here in that timeframe. Seemed to be the obvious solution.

On entering the DriveTest centre, I explained my situation and was given a horrified look by the woman at the information desk when I told her I'd been driving on an IDP all year. "You can't do that!" she said. "It's illegal!" She went on to explain that my IDP was only valid in Canada for 60 days. I tried to tell her that it was valid for a full year, but she insisted that it wasn't. She directed me to another woman to help sort this out.

The second woman calmly looked over my paperwork and said... you guessed it... "You don't need - and never did need - to get an Ontario license. Your IDP is perfectly valid." These two women work in the same office, and were not 30 feet from each other! I called the two together and said we better get our story straight. Woman 2 pointed out that not only was the G1 license not necessary, but if I got pulled up by the police for something, the fact that I had it at all would take priority over my IDP, essentialy meaning that my IDP had been invalid all year because I had the G1. She explained that I had been given the wrong advice right from the beginning, and that my IDP was perfectly valid so long as I did NOT get an Ontario license. I'm really pissed off about this now... because of their misleading and incorrect advice back in January, not only have I been driving on an invalid license all year but it cost me CAD$85 for the privilege!

Ok, so at this point I now have two options to cover the 10 days between Jan 12 and Jan 22. Either get a new International Driving Permit issued from Australia (another AUD$50) or sit the Ontario G2 license test and get a full Ontario license (another CAD$40). Since they were both about the same price, I decided to book in for a G2 test and finally get the damn Ontario license.

With the test booked for December 18, I decided to just check with my insurance company and let them know what I was doing, since they covered us initially on the strength of my IDP. I emailed my contact at Johnson's Insurance and let her know what was going on. She rang me back that day and advised me NOT to get the Ontario license, but to instead renew the IDP. The IDP, she explained, was based on my Australian driving record and gave me a 6 star rating, and therefore a much lower premium. If I had an Ontario G2 I would only get a 3 star rating, and my premium would rise considerably. I'm glad I asked the question! I went to the NRMA website, downloaded the application form and sent it off for a new IDP. That at least solved my main problem of covering my license for those 1o days in January.

I then went back to the DriveTest office today to cancel my driving test, get my $40 refunded, and cancel my G1 (which I never should have held at all). I discovered I could cancel my 5-year-valid G1, and get a refund on the unused 4 year portion - a refund of $60. Then I started to think about it... all this hassle and expense was caused because some drone at the MTO gave me patently wrong advice in the first place. I was out of pocket $85 by trying to get a license issued to me that I not only didn't need, but was actually detrimental to me as the holder of an IDP! Bugger the $60 refund. I want a full $85 refund for the entire shemozzle!

So I went back up to the MTO at Cross Street, where this whole stupid mess got started and told them the story. I insisted on getting my full $85 refund. Once we got past the "Sorry sir, we don't have a policy for that" nonsense, I was given the contact number for the MTO head office and I will be taking it up there, and I won't stop until I am satisfied. As Howard Beale said in the movie "Network", I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!

I'll let you know how I go...

The Bottom Line: To any Aussie exchange teachers coming to Canada, here is what you need to know. An International Driving Permit issued in Australia is all you need to legally drive in Canada for 12 months. The whole confusion arises around the definition of whether you are a visitor or a resident. Residents must get a local Ontario license within 60 days of arriving in Canada. Visitors do not. Despite the fact that some people in the MTO will try to tell you that your 12 month stay makes you a resident and that you therefore need to get a local license, as an exchange teacher you DO NOT NEED an Ontario license. You are classed as a visitor, and can legally drive on your IDP and don't let anyone tell you otherwise, especially the "experts" at the MTO! Be aware that you will need to renew your IDP if it expires while you are in Canada. Good luck!

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