Imperial Oil faces human rights complaint over cancelled job offer to Pakistani man
McGill University graduate claims the firm discriminated against him based on national origin and citizenship in case believed to be first in Canada on such grounds.
Muhammad Taimoor Haseeb was so close to realizing his dream of a job in Canada’s oil industry after his graduation from McGill University.
In December 2014, Imperial Oil offered the Pakistani student an $86,700-a-year position at its Sarnia refinery, with all benefits including the company’s pension and savings plans.
However, the job offer was rescinded as soon as the company found out Haseeb was neither a Canadian citizen nor a permanent resident — even though he could legally work in Canada under Ottawa’s post-graduation work permit program designed to attract international students.
Now, Imperial Oil is at the centre of a human rights complaint of employment discrimination against Haseeb based on national origin and citizenship.
The case, which is scheduled to go before a Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario hearing in March, is believed to be the first employment-related complaint in the province and Canada on such grounds — and could set a precedent, if successful, as post-graduation work experience has become an increasingly important stepping stone for permanent residency in Canada.
“The phrase ‘legally able to work in Canada on permanent basis’ appears daily in job postings across the country,” said Chantal Tie, Haseeb’s lawyer from the Human Rights Legal Support Centre.
“At a time when the Canadian government is begging for skilled professionals, this bar to employment is absurd. It also constitutes discrimination, because the concept of ‘permanence’ is linked with citizenship and country of origin.”
Imperial Oil declined to comment on the specific case, but said offers of permanent employment at the company are conditional on candidates submitting proof they are eligible to work in Canada on a permanent basis.
“Our eligibility requirements are communicated to candidates receiving conditional employment offers at several stages in the recruitment process, including during the online application stage, the interview process and in Imperial’s offer of employment.”
In 2009, Haseeb came to Canada from Pakistan for his undergraduate studies in mechanical engineering at McGill and received top marks when he graduated in December 2014.
Before his graduation, Haseeb said he attended several job fairs and information sessions held on campus by prospective employers, including one by Imperial.
In the fall of 2014, he submitted his resumé to the company and was invited to two rounds of interviews, being flown in on one occasion from Montreal to Sarnia for an on-site visit. Imperial’s job offer arrived Dec. 2, 2014.
“We strive to be the employer of choice for the most talented and qualified individuals in our industry. We believe that you possess the skills and ability to make a strong contribution to our company,” wrote recruitment co-ordinator Sheila Knebush, who also cautioned the offer was subject to the terms and conditions in an attachment.
One of those stipulations was the eligibility to work in Canada, which required proof that “you are eligible to work in Canada on a permanent basis.”
To meet the condition, the letter said, he must submit a copy of his Canadian birth certificate, Canadian citizenship certificate or a permanent resident card.
Upon receiving the offer, Haseeb said he contacted Imperial’s human resources staff and informed them he was not a citizen or permanent resident but could legally work in Canada for up to three years under a post-graduation work permit while applying for permanent residency in Canada.
The federal government extended post-graduation work permits for foreign students in 2005 and introduced the Canada Experience Class program in 2008 to boost its international student recruitment and retention to address the issue of immigrant unemployment and underemployment due to lack of Canadian education and work credentials.
In his complaint, Haseeb, now 25, said he was asked to “imagine how I would feel if immigrants started coming into Pakistan and start taking all the jobs.”
“Treating me as lesser of a human being because I was not born in Canada is upsetting. Telling me that immigrants take up jobs that locals deserve and have the first right to is just as discriminatory,” said Haseeb, who now works for an international management consulting firm in St. John’s, N.L.
“If it were true, Imperial Oil should not give jobs to anyone but the First Nations folks, who are the only ones who possibly meet the criteria.”
In its reply to the human rights tribunal, Imperial argued the complaint should be dismissed because “there is no reasonable prospect” the case would succeed.
At the time the job was offered, it argued, Haseeb did not have a valid work permit and hence could not work legally in Canada. It also alleged that the complainant “lied to and/or failed to inform Imperial Oil that he did not have the legal right to work for Imperial Oil in Canada throughout the relevant time period.”
However, Tie, Haseeb’s lawyer, noted that study permit holders in Canada no longer needed a separate work permit to work off campus as of June 2014.
“The crux of the problem is increasingly Canadian employers are requiring citizenship and permanent residency, particularly for highly skilled jobs,” said Tie.
“It has created an insurmountable barrier for these students to get the work experience, which is supposed to be the direct pipeline to Canadian permanent residence.”