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Thursday, Nov 14, 2019

Sikhs to be exempted from Ontario motorcycle helmet law

The govt has said the exemption, which comes into effect from October 18, will recognise Sikh motorcycle riders’ civil rights and religious expression

punjab Updated: Oct 12, 2018 14:50 IST
Anirudh Bhattacharya
Anirudh Bhattacharya
Hindustan Times, Toronto
Members of B.C.’s Sikh Motorcycle Club are pictured during a 2016 fundraising ride.
Members of B.C.’s Sikh Motorcycle Club are pictured during a 2016 fundraising ride.(The Canadian Press)
         

After years of campaigning, turbaned Sikhs in Canada’s Ontario province are expected to get the right to ride motorcycles without wearing helmets as soon as the end of next week. In a statement issued on Wednesday, Dough Ford, premier of the country’s largest province, said: “We promised to establish a helmet exemption for Sikh motorcyclists. Today we are taking action to fulfil that promise. We listened to the Sikh community and we intend to exempt them from the requirement to wear a helmet while riding a motorcycle.”

Prabmeet Sarkaria, a member of the provincial legislature from Ford’s Progressive Conservative Party, has tabled legislation that is expected to be voted on next Thursday and is expected to pass, securing the exemption for Sikhs riders. Those lobbying for the change are understandably delighted.

Khushwant Singh Bajwa, secretary of the Sikh Motorcycle Club of Ontario, said, “We are very happy, this is great news.” He said they were “positive” the exemption will become reality next week. He expected this will happen either through the passage of the bill or, failing that, through an amendment of the relevant road safety regulations by transport ministry. In an emailed response, a spokesperson for the ministry said, “This winter, Ontario laws will be brought in line with those of Alberta, BC (British Columbia) and Manitoba, where helmet exemptions for Sikh motorcycle riders are in place.”

Bajwa said this was a “long-pending demand of the community” to secure “a right which should be given”.

According to the Toronto Sun newspaper, Sarkaria said in a statement, “The wearing of the turban is an essential part of the Sikh faith and identity, and exemptions for Sikhs have been successfully implemented in other provinces in Canada and across the world.” There are also critics of the planned action. The Toronto Star newspaper quoted Brian Patterson of the Ontario Safety League as saying, “It’s always better to wear a helmet.”

While the previous government in Ontario had refused to give the exemption, this had been among the promises made by Ford during his election campaign. That was the reason provided by the ministry of transportation: “Premier Doug Ford committed to the Sikh community that the Ontario government would grant an exemption in recognition of Sikh motorcycle riders’ civil rights and religious expression.”