Fresh Off The Boat in Brampton
The City of Brampton in Ontario has arguably one of the largest Sikh populations in all of North America. At over 110,000 residents in 2016, Sikhs formed nearly 19% of the city’s entire population. Not just Sikhs, Brampton attracts a large number of immigrants from South Asia as well as the African Continent. Between 2016 and 2021, Brampton added over 63,000 residents, a 10.6% change in 5 years and the largest increase of major cities in all of Canada. No doubt, most of these new residents of Brampton are migrants and many of them are South Asian including Sikhs. However, none of this comes as a surprise to us. Most people in Canada are aware of Brampton’s large immigrant/Sikh population. Not just in Canada, people from all parts of India are aware of Brampton and its large immigrant roots. What they are not aware of though is that along with having one of the highest proportions of immigrant population, Brampton also has one of the highest car insurance rates in all of North America, higher than any other city in all of Canada and the United States combined. The average insurance rate paid by a resident of Brampton in 2020 was $2700/year. This is higher than even the densely populated City of Toronto at $2200/year or Montreal at $1200/year. Even New York sees a lower car insurance rate than Brampton. But if paying $2700 a year to insure your car sounds like a lot to you, you are lucky to have it as it applies only to a long-time resident of average age 35 years with > 15 years of clean driving experience in Canada. For someone like myself who is licensed in Ontario for about a year and despite a driving history in the US before that, the average cost for car insurance is more like $7,063 per year, for a 10-yr old Honda Civic, for a 36-yr old driver, pending approval.
Chart depicting average car insurance rates across the Greater Toronto Area all the way towards Quebec. Brampton in the lower left corner (deep red) has the highest car insurance rates across all of Ontario and even North America. Insurance rates in Canada are based largely on the postal code of one’s residence. Areas with higher accident rates see larger insurance premiums. While no data is publicly available on accident rates by postal code, companies claim that Brampton sees high rates of accidents per capita. Many residents however, disagree. To the large number of brown and black immigrants of the city, this is just another form of systematic racial discrimination, one that targets new immigrants of color who have little voice or power over the situation. To elaborate from personal experience, I contacted a local agent to shop around for insurance when I first tried to buy a car in Brampton. Like many other people in Canada, I also shopped around on www.rates.ca. Both agents took my call, both of them discussed the situation with me and both asked me to send my details to them over email. I knew insurance in Brampton was going to be expensive for me, but I was willing to pay that price for close access to the airport, good samose and for that community feel. However, it had been days since reaching out to the agents and I had not heard back. No amount of follow up calls or emails could get a response from their side. I was more than surprised at insurance companies not wanting more business.
A typical car insurance quote in a Brampton postal code for a 36-year old driver with one year of driving history in Canada and driving a 10-year-old Honda Civic. After spending $588 on car insurance per month, how much is one left with to spend on insuring a dog or a cat? At this point, I knew I had to explore more options. I decided to try out a third online-only insurance company, Sonnet. Once again, I filled in all my details and was glad that I could finally buy my insurance directly online without having to wait to hear back from a human. Sonnet gave me a quotation of … ~$589/month. That is $7068/year! That is more than the price of my car! It even prompted me to make a payment, which with screaming disapproval I finally did. However, little did I know that it was too early to celebrate. After paying nearly $1200 for the first two months of insurance, I still needed final approval from the company and was burdened with lengthy paperwork including an OAF1 Application Form, Vehicle ownership papers and more. However, I didn’t own the vehicle as yet, I couldn’t until I had insurance. The dealership needed proof of insurance before selling me a car and the insurance company needed proof of ownership. This was a chicken and an egg problem. Upon contacting the company, their response verbatim was: “Unfortunately, this is a very lengthy process and it would not guarantee you coverage as well in this case. Unfortunately, you would have to fill out that form to the best of your ability then follow the instructions to have it submitted by the specified deadline.” They also added: “ - I would recommend seeking out a broker or rates.ca for other options!” Sonnet wasn’t ready to sell me car insurance easily and I had already “seeked out” rates.ca before them to no avail. This made it impossible for me to both live in Brampton and own a car at the same time. How is that legal in the province of Ontario? Should I just submit the paperwork and wait a month or two for them to process it in the “hopes” of being approved? Or, should I leave Brampton altogether and move to a predominantly white neighborhood with lower insurance rates to live the Canadian dream? I finally decided to move. My company had started to move us to a full-time remote position and I wasn’t bound to a particular city or neighborhood. I was glad I had that option!
A car insurance quote in the city of Cornwall, Ontario for the same 36-year old driver driving a 10 year old Honda Civic. Insurance rates in predominantly white Cornwall are about 30% compared to those in large immigrant centers such as Brampton. Lucky as I was the biggest question on my mind then was, what did other recent immigrants with fewer resources and options than me, do in a similar situation? Most, especially students might rely upon public transportation. However, the lack of good public transport infrastructure limits one’s ability to go to school and work or even both on the same day without having a car. Years ago, many of the “long-time older, white residents” of Brampton convinced the City Council to give back $1.6-billion promised by the Provincial Government for Light Rail Transit for its residents. They didn’t want anything to disrupt their downtown neighborhood. Of course, long-time, older and white residents do not have a problem buying new insurance even in Brampton. The recent brown and black residents are already subsidizing it for them. A few years ago, NDP Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) of Ontario for Brampton East, Gurratan Singh tabled a bill to end postal code discrimination and lower premiums in places like Brampton, Mississauga and others. However, Doug Ford’s Conservative Government rejected it. Even before that, the Liberal Government, for 15 years failed to do anything about the skyrocketing insurance rates in the area. What is worse is that annual insurance rate hikes are possible only with approval from the Provincial Government, and successive governments in Ontario have been doing that making them complicit in the extortion. Life as a recent South Asian immigrant to Brampton may not include everything as nice as it may seem. Traveling thousands of miles to a foreign land one feels welcome in a place with familiar food, faces and your own community at the local Gurdwara or Temple. While Canadians generally are known to be polite and welcoming people, Canada is still no post-racial paradise. As much as Canadians set themselves apart from their American neighbors “south of the border”, racism here is just a bit more subtle and polite. Canada is expected to receive hundreds of thousands of new immigrants from India in the coming years. If current trends are an indicator, nearly 40% of them will settle in the Greater Toronto Area alone. This will only make things worse for both the long-time and the more recent immigrants who wish to call Brampton home. Apart from car insurance, Brampton also has one of the most burdensome healthcare systems across the province and the country. If immigrants are willing to work hard to “get the job done” while working for less, they deserve their fair share of reasonable and respectable living like the others. Are you a new resident of Brampton or the Greater Toronto Area? Have you faced problems settling in and integrating into the community so far or had a similar experience? Write to us, as we would like to know more about your specific experience.