Ontario, Canada: Motorcycle-riding Sikhs in Ontario will not be exempted from the province’s helmet law, Premier Kathleen Wynne has decided.
The Canadian Sikh Association says it received a letter last week from Wynne stating the Liberal government, for safety reasons, will not allow Sikh motorcycle riders to wear only turbans as British Columbia and Manitoba currently allow.
“After careful deliberation, we have determined that we will not grant this type of exemption as it would pose a road safety risk. Ultimately, the safety of Ontarians is my utmost priority, and I cannot justify setting that concern aside on this issue,” Wynne said in her letter dated Aug. 14.
Wynne said safety trumps religious freedoms in this case.
“As you know, the issue of balance between religious accommodation and public safety has been considered by the courts in Ontario which, on this issue, have found that Ontario’s mandatory helmet law does not infringe on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, nor the Ontario Human Rights Code,” she said.
The Ontario Highway Traffic Act requires all motorcyclists to wear a helmet. This poses a problem for Sikhs, whose turbans don’t fit under most helmets.
Manohar Singh Bal, secretary of the Canadian Sikh Association, said the group has been co-ordinating efforts on behalf of the community for almost four years to have Sikh riders exempted on religious ground.
“This decision by Premier Wynne puts into question the value given to the collective views of our long-time Sikh MPPs in the Liberal Caucus,” a Canadian Sikh Association news release stated.
“It is undeniable that the Ontario Sikh community is unanimous in their support for granting this exemption.”
NDP MPP Jagmeet Singh (Bramalea-Gore-Malton) said he was “deeply disappointed by Premier Wynne’s decision not to grant an exemption to motorcycle helmet laws for turbaned Sikhs. Similar exemptions already exist in the United Kingdom, Manitoba and British Columbia, and here in Ontario the idea is supported by members from all three caucuses.”
In 2008, Ontario Court of Justice Judge James Blacklock of Brampton ruled against a human rights challenge to the Ontario Highway Traffic Act that had been launched by Baljinder Badesha, a devout Sikh who was fined $110 in 2005 for not wearing a helmet while riding a motorcycle.
The Canadian Sikh Association’s release noted the Wynne letter comes only weeks after all four Sikh MPPs in the Liberal Party, Vic Dhillon, Harinder Malhi, Amrit Mangat and Harinder Takhar, wrote a joint open letter to Wynne stating: “We are all in favour of granting such an exemption . . . this is an issue of reasonable accommodation and honouring Sikh values and tradition.”