Ontario to exempt Sikh motorcyclists from helmet law

Sigh. Religious accommodation to ride a motorcycle? Would a government grant an exemption for wearing seatbelts? In line with other provinces, however, even if the justification is flimsy.

“The wearing of the turban is an essential part of the Sikh faith and identity,” stated the Brampton South MPP.

Wrong on two counts: not all Sikhs wear turbans and riding a motorcycle is not an essential part of Sikh faith and identity:

Sikhs with turbans will be exempt from wearing motorcycle helmets starting next Thursday, Premier Doug Ford says, revving up concerns over higher medical and insurance costs.

Highway Traffic Act regulations are being changed to fulfil Ford’s election promise of a helmet reprieve on religious grounds, which the previous Liberal government refused to do for safety reasons despite years of lobbying from the Canadian Sikh Association.

“Soon we will have a right to ride with our pride,” the Sikh Motorcycle Club of Ontario posted on its Facebook page Wednesday.

British Columbia, Manitoba and Alberta already have helmet exemptions for Sikh motorcyclists, as does the United Kingdom. Helmets often do not fit over turbans, which take time to put on and take off.

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

So contentious is the issue that the premier held a news event in Brampton mainly for the local Punjabi media, excluding the Queen’s Park press corps.

Ford’s office defended the unusual move to bypass the mainstream media.

Safety experts said it’s more dangerous to ride a motorcycle without a helmet, with the non-profit Canada Safety Council noting they reduce fatalities by 37 per cent and head injuries by 67 per cent.

“You’re certainly taking on more risk,” said Raynald Marchand of the Ottawa-based group and a rider since 1974, who encouraged Sikh motorcyclists to use eye-protecting goggles at a minimum.

“It’s always better to wear a helmet,” added Brian Patterson of the Ontario Safety League.

The helmet exception for Sikhs exploded on social media, with commentators questioning whether riders should have to sign waivers so taxpayers won’t be on the hook for any head injury treatment costs.

But the safety experts downplayed the likelihood of much impact on the health-care system, given that Sikh riders are a small fraction of the motorcycling population.

“I don’t think the numbers are significant,” Marchand told the Star.

It’s unclear, however, what could happen to overall motorcycle insurance rates, given that companies can’t single out Sikh riders for higher premiums under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“Given the size, it may not be significant enough. Insurance companies will look at premiums based on data,” said Pete Karageorgos of the Insurance Bureau of Canada.

Ford’s announcement followed last week’s introduction of a private member’s bill on a helmet exemption by Brampton South MPP Prabmeet Sarkaria.

“The wearing of the turban is an essential part of the Sikh faith and identity,” Sarkaria said in a statement.

Source: Ontario to exempt Sikh motorcyclists from helmet law

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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