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Muslim immigrant cabbies say they face discrimination in Quebec City job market

Muslim cabbies in Quebec city underemployed

QUEBEC — During a break from picking up passengers outside Quebec City’s airport, Karim removes a piece of cardboard hanging on the wall of the trailer and places it on the ground, he stands on it, and begins evening prayers.

Across the small, narrow trailer the television is broadcasting Thursday’s funeral service in Montreal held for three of the six men murdered in a mosque across town.

Taxi drivers such as Karim, 53, who didn’t want to use his last name, are thankful for the outpouring of warmth towards the Muslim community from people across the city since last weekend’s shootings.

But he and his colleagues at the airport taxi stand â€” many of whom hail from French-speaking North Africa â€” can’t help but feel frustration at the society they feel hasn’t fully accepted them, especially in the job market.

Karim, who came to Quebec from Morocco in 1991, completed a master’s at Laval University in 1996 in management.

“I sent hundreds of resumes,” he said, about his job search after graduating. “I got two interviews.”

Earlier in the week, the vice-president of Quebec City’s mosque, Mohamed Labidi, stood sobbing over the dried blood of his friend Azzeddine Soufiane, whom he said tried in vain to stop the shooter.

Labidi couldn’t help but telling reporters that Soufiane couldn’t find a job after moving to Quebec City and instead opened his own store.

“Go to taxi stands and you’ll see PhDs and people with master’s degrees because we do not find jobs here,” Labidi said. 

Taoufik Essekkouri, 46, steps out of his cab holding a coffee and onto the freezing outdoor parking lot. Nearby, a small plane’s propellers begin to spin.

He immigrated from Morocco in 2010 and completed a master’s degree at Laval University in vegetable biology four years later.

“My future here? To be honest, I’m not optimistic,” he said over the loud buzzing of the propellers.

A few hours earlier, several kilometres away in Quebec’s City famed Place d’Youville square, Bachreir Ikhlef, 37, was sitting in his taxi waiting for his next passenger.

He said when he came to Quebec City as a programmer from Algeria in 2011 he was “full of energy.”

A job councillor suggested he get a diploma from a Quebec college in order to help strengthen his resume.

“We were 25 who started the diploma, and by the end only 12 of us finished,” he said about his programming certificate.

“Myself and a Tunisian guy didn’t even get an internship. Neither of us have found work in our field.”

Government and private-sector research over the past ten years consistently indicate immigrants, particularly visible minorities, have higher unemployment rates in Quebec than the rest of the population.

The left-leaning, Quebec-based research group IRIS, indicated in 2016 that 43 per cent of immigrants are overqualified for the jobs they hold.

Premier Philippe Couillard told reporters Thursday that “our society has the same demons that others have to deal with. Xenophobia, racism, exclusion.

“Why is unemployment higher among immigrants? That’s a question we must ask ourselves but this has nothing to do with (the shooting) of this week.”

Hundreds gathered in Montreal and Quebec City for two separate ceremonies honouring the six men who died after a 27-year-man allegedly entered a mosque and began shooting last Sunday night.

Politicians and community members said during both commemorations that neighbours must begin to speak to one another more, in order to foster understand between groups.

Couillard spoke about the need for employers to hire people not based on their last name, but on their competence.

“A lot has been heard this week,” Couillard told the funeral gathering in Quebec City on Friday, regarding the kind words from citizens expressing love towards the city’s Muslim minority.

“Let’s hope a lot has been learned.”

Back at the airport taxi stand, Essekkouri said many people in the city know all about how many immigrants are overqualified for their jobs.

“Journalists have come here before and asked the same questions to taxi drivers,” he said. “It’s been done. And nothing ever changes.”

Giuseppe Valiante, The Canadian Press

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