Doug Ford government promises to exempt Sikhs who wear turbans from motorcycle helmet laws

Click to play video: 'Turban-wearing Sikhs in Ontario may soon be exempt from wearing motorcycle helmets'
Turban-wearing Sikhs in Ontario may soon be exempt from wearing motorcycle helmets
WATCH ABOVE: The Doug Ford government says it plans to introduce legislation that may make Ontario the fourth province to allow turbans as a substitute for motorcycle helmets. Kamil Karamali explains – Aug 30, 2018

Members of the Sikh Motorcycle Club of Ontario have been riding around on four wheels instead of two for a number of years because it’s currently illegal to ride a motorcycle with a turban instead of a helmet.

“We are basically incomplete without the turban,” said Jagdeep Singh, a representative with the motorcycle group.

“We have to be able to wear it in all aspects of life, which includes riding motorcycles.”

READ MORE: Alberta 3rd province to allow Sikhs to ride motorcycles without helmets

Singh added it’s difficult to take the turban on and off for religious reasons, but the process also takes several minutes.

“I cannot be expected to take off the turban, put the helmet on, and then go into a Tim Hortons and put the turban on again,” he said.

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All of that may change soon enough.

Doug Ford’s office confirmed the premier is planning on introducing legislation in the winter that would exempt turban-wearing Sikhs from wearing helmets while riding a motorcycle.

“The Ministry of Transportation is currently reviewing Ontario’s mandatory helmet law,” said Laryssa Waler, a spokesperson for Premier Doug Ford, adding the promise was made at a roundtable.

“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.”

There are already three provinces that allow turban-wearing Sikhs to ride motorcycles without helmets.

According to Manitoba’s rule, “any bona fide members of the Sikh religion are exempt from helmet-wearing laws.”

British Columbia’s wording is a bit more specific, which states the motorcycle helmet exemption applies to “any Sikh who has unshorn hair and habitually wears a turban composed of five or more square meters of cloth.”

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The third province is Alberta, welcoming the new rule in April of this year. According to a spokesperson for the Government of Alberta, a rider wearing a turban, but not wearing a helmet, would have to self-identify to be considered a Sikh. At that point, it would be up to the discretion of the officer. If the officer doesn’t believe the rider, a ticket may still be issued.

Private member bills in Ontario were introduced by the NDP in 2013 and 2016, but the rules remained the same.

While many Sikhs in Ontario are applauding Ford’s promise, some doctors called the move reckless.

The [helmet’s] hard shell is critically important … There’s padding in the regular helmet. They’ve been designed specifically for that, where as in turbans, there’s a lot of variability,” said Dr. Michael Cusimano, a neurosurgeon at St. Michael’s Hospital.<

“It should be common sense to motorcyclists that it would be common sense to wear one, regardless what the law says.

“Sure, you could prevent an abrasion to the skin that you might get a burn, but lets not fool ourselves: the turban is not going to provide the same kind of protection as a properly designed helmet.”

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Cusimano also brought up the debate of what the initiative would cost taxpayers.

“To what degree do you allow individual rights to trump collective rights? So how would people feel for paying for medical costs of someone who sustains an injury that is preventable?” he said.

However, members of the Sikh Motorcycle Club of Ontario argued their religious freedoms are at stake.

READ MORE: Turban-wearing Sikhs in Ontario must wear helmet to ride motorbike

“The diversity and inclusion is what defines Canada,” said Singh. “We are essentially a bouquet of cultures and we have to celebrate that in how we’ve come along in the faith and religions.”

The president of the motorcycle group adds that its cross-country members gives back to the community frequently and deserves its cultural freedoms.

“Wherever people need help, Sikhs are there,” said Inderjit Singh Jagraon. “We are big team all over Canada. We did a ride for the Canadian Cancer Society and we raised $100,000 and this year, we raised $35,000 in one day for Diabetes Canada.”

Jagraon adds that right now, the members of his group who don’t wear turbans represent them in their motorcycle rides. While the turban-wearing Sikhs take a figurative backseat. All of them looking forward to change that may only be months away.

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“Now there’s a positive, a good feeling in the whole Sikh community,” said club member Kashwant Singh.

“It’s a time for no racism, no discrimination, and for equality for the Sikh community for all over Canada.”

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