Ontario introduces motorcycle helmet exemption for Sikhs

Published: October 16, 2018

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Ontario has become the latest province to announce exempt turban-wearing Sikhs from wearing a helmet when on a motorcycle. The province joins Alberta, British Columbia, and Manitoba in adding the exemption.

Ruling Progressive Conservatives say the upcoming rule will respect the civil rights of Sikhs through freedom of religious expression.

“The safety of our roads will always remain a priority,” said Premier Doug Ford in a statement. “But our government also believes that individuals have personal accountability and responsibility with respect to their own well-being.”

Motorcycle exemption for Sikhs will be introduced this week, coming into effect from Oct. 18. The introduction comes after Progressive Conservative lawmaker Prabmeet Sarkaria sponsored a bill seeking to amend the Highway Traffic Act. Instead of needing to go through the bill process, the government fast-tracked the change by introducing a new regulation.

“I have been calling for a helmet exemption for turbaned Ontario Sikh motorcyclists for several years now,” Sarkaria said. “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.”

Safety Problems

Some have argued the exemption ignores the risk Sikh riders now face. “The main implication is that we’re going to get people who will get hurt,” warned Raynald Marchand, general manager of programs at the Canada Safety Council.

Marchand believes if the exemption is now part of law, it should only be for Sikhs who have their full license.

“They are most vulnerable at the learning stage,” he explained. “They might also find that wearing a helmet is actually a pretty good thing.”