Ontario denies Sikh request to ride without helmets

Photo: sikhmotorcycleclub.org

Photo: sikhmotorcycleclub.org

Although Sikhs have gotten a religious exemption from helmet laws in many jurisdictions, they won’t be granted that in Ontario.

Last week, premier Kathleen Wynne sent a letter to the Canadian Sikh Association saying the province would not accommodate their request to ride sans skid lid.  Baptized Sikhs are required to wear turbans (known as a Dastaar) as part of their religion, and obviously a helmet interferes with that.

“After careful deliberation, we have determined that we will not grant this type of exemption as it would pose a road safety risk,”Wynne’s letter said. “Ultimately, the safety of Ontarians is my utmost priority, and I cannot justify setting that concern aside on this issue.”

Four Sikh members of Wynne’s caucus had sent her an open letter indicating they were in approval of the exemption, and several other organizations had also requested it. Wynne had said she’d address the issue after the spring election this year, and she’s kept her word, although many of the affected Sikhs don’t seem very happy with her decision.


  1. Firstly, anybody who decides to ride a motorcycle with out a helmet, whether on religious or any other grounds, is an absolute idiot. That being said, you do have the right to be an idiot if you so choose.

    Anytime you crash on a motorcycle at highway speed you are going to hit your head, there is no way around it. So, what the province needs to do is insert a clause in the health act stating that any traumatic head injury resultant from a motorcyclist NOT wearing a helmet WILL NOT be covered under OHIP. I do not want to pay for other people’s stupidity. There is also the issue of insurance. I don’t want my rates to increase as a result of others not wearing helmets and suffering injury and you know the insurance companies will use it to crank the rates up on everybody.

    Put the onus of coverage, all coverages, on the individual who makes the choice to ride without a helmet and I doubt you’ll see much hair blowing in the wind.

  2. In Canada we have more or less shared health care costs and depending on the province shared vehicle insurance, so exceptions are detrimental to everyone. The fact that following any religious law is an act of faith by definition means you might have to suck it up and not ride your mid-life crisis-mobile for two weekends in the summer if you don’t want to annoy god.
    A single braindead patient can cost the system millions and millions to keep on nutrient drips and clean bedsheets for decades, so it seems unreasonable to insist we have indulge specific behaviour that leads directly to those situations. The fact that in BC this was exempted while they cracked down on non-certified brain buckets has a lot to do with local politics (sikhs and other south asians had a very friendly, liberal image while the brain bucket was more closely linked to seriously bad people and loud annoying weekend warriors.)

    As per a few commentors above it would actually be a good idea to see a “certified” status for mandatory gear like the visible green triangle for safety work boots. If you are pulled over you have visible certification on the exterior of all your garments (blue dot or whatever,) or face fines. A comparison would be to remove the doors, windshield and seatbacks from your car and go tooling around, sure you gotta love the freedom and you probably won’t die but face facts: it’s about when and not if.

    • Also I guess that was a little long winded but I feel driver safety law is one area where most decisions are based on pretty solid study and evidence (with some notable politicized exceptions.) The biggest complaint you can make is it’s so slow to respond to change because it relies on decades long info gathering (even with regards to relaxing laws in the face of new technology.)

  3. I think we should go right past getting rid of helmet laws and be rid of those pesky baby car seats. Every baby should be able to decide for himself or herself if it is appropriate for them.

    You’re a fool if you don’t understand riding a motorcycle is dangerous, why people want to make it more dangerous I’ll never understand.

  4. I’m not a sikh….To categorize that once turban (wearing) Sikhs will start riding a motorcycle they will start dying just doesn’t make any sense…British Columbia, Manitoba and the United Kingdom have all enacted legislation that allows turban-wearing Sikhs the right to ride a motorcycle…

    “And Whoever Compels You To Go One Mile,Go With Him Two”
    Matthew 5:41

    • We all have the right to practice (or not to) any religion we like. The privilege to ride a motorcycle is contingent on obeying applicable laws, laws that must be applied equally and without prejudice.
      If the observation of a religious tenant is important to me but runs counter to a law that may eliminate a recreational choice for me I would choose not to ride the motorcycle as opposed to demand/expect accomodation.

    • Does being a Sikh make you immune to brain injuries in a fall? Helmets provide the brain (and skull) some real protection, turbans do not. Either we, as a society, believe that personal safety is important enough that the decision whether to wear a helmet can’t be left to the individual (many of whom will choose not to, as seen in various US states with no helmet laws), in which case it’s hard to see a justification for an exception for Sikhs, or we don’t, in which case nobody should have to wear one if they don’t want to.

      On a practical level, I’d have no problem with making an exception for Sikhs, but as a matter of principle, I believe the same laws should apply to all of us equally, regardless of our race or religion. Society has decided it has an interest in protecting people from their own bad decisions, and made a helmet law. On principle I’d be happy to see an end to the helmet law, although on a practical level I worry about the people who would suffer permanent brain injury or death in accidents they might otherwise have walked away from.

  5. The Five Ks are five Articles of Faith that Khalsa Sikhs wear at all times as commanded by the tenth Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, who so ordered it at the Vaisakhi Amrit Sanskar in 1699. The Five Ks are: Kesh (uncut long hair), a Kangha (small wooden comb), a Kara (steel or iron bracelet), a Kacchera (undergarment) and a Kirpan (short dagger). The Five Ks are not just symbols, but articles of faith that collectively form the external identity and the Khalsa devotee’s commitment to the Sikh rehni “Sikh way of life.

    The turban as mentioned by someone else is basically a device to manage the long hair. A Canadian Army vet I knew said the turban was allowed to be worn by Sikhs in the Canadian military. He also stated that when the command was given to remove headdress as protocol dictated for certain situations everyone including those with turbans removed their head covering until ordered to replace headdress.

    • ” A Canadian Army vet I knew said the turban was allowed to be worn by Sikhs in the Canadian military.”

      Not during battle or when on manoeuvres. That went to court a number of years ago.

  6. Nobody (at least in this country) is “required” to do anything for religious reasons. One chooses to follow a religion, and then chooses how observant of its rules to be.

    Really what these guys are saying is “I prefer to take my chances riding without a helmet than to suffer the inconvenience of removing my turban and getting all my hair inside a helmet, of risk offending my co-religionists, or taking a chance of offending my God. All personal choice. Not a whole lot different than saying “I prefer not to wear a helmet because it messes up my hair, or because I feel it limits my vision or hearing,” or whatever.

    Now, arguably, this could be a “reasonable accommodation” of a religion – it doesn’t really harm anyone else directly to let Sikhs ride without a helmet. Of course, the same could be said of everyone in general. We have this law, agree with it or not, to protect people from themselves.

  7. As has been explained to me, baptized male Sikhs are NOT required to wear a turban – they are required to not cut their hair, hence the beard. The turban is a management appliance.

  8. My religion (Our Lady of the Heavenly Twistgrip) requires me to ride at 50 kph over the speed limit at all times. Can I get an “Amen?” How about an exemption?

  9. Quite honestly I agree with this ruling.

    Safety should trump tradition and religion. In all situations.

    What I would like to know, as was written in another article I read; what where the arguments put to the goverment in favour of the exemption to the law?

    I honestly would like to hear the other side of this story in more detail.

    • “Safety should trump tradition and religion. In all situations.”

      The danger in that is blindly accepting the governing body’s definition of safety and what constitutes a dangerous pastime. It’s a slippery slope to outright outlawing activities such as mountaineering, skydiving or other demonstrably ‘dangerous’ pastimes on the premise that people need to be protected from themselves.

      At the wrong end of the spectrum is motorcycling itself being banned. After all, people are very often injured in the course of operating single-track vehicles. These people must be saved at whatever the cost.

      • “At the wrong end of the spectrum is motorcycling itself being banned. After all, people are very often injured in the course of operating single-track vehicles. These people must be saved at whatever the cost.”

        Now we leave the sublime and enter the ridiculous. Not everything can be argued with the “slippery slope” logic. Were that the case, we would have no laws whatsoever.

        • If you are going to bring intelligence and logic into the helmet/no helmet discussion… We’ll end up with an intelligent, logical discussion. Oh. Thanks, oh dark one.

        • ‘Now we leave the sublime and enter the ridiculous. Not everything can be argued with the “slippery slope” logic.’

          I don’t think it’s ridiculous. For one thing, I wasn’t stating that the law itself is bad, I was arguing with the ‘in all situations’ statement. THAT is a slippery slope if ever there was one. If one just sits back and lets the government run willy-nilly with whatever it decides is justified, without any checks or balances in place, one day you’ll wind up with most of your rights and freedoms revoked.

          The point is to be vigilant and be involved with the processes that determine what we can and cannot do. If one sits back and idly believes that the government is operating on our behalf and in our best interest, one is living a lie. Governments work in their own interest and in the interest of the corporate $ that put/keep them in power.

          • “Governments work in their own interest and in the interest of the corporate $ that put/keep them in power.”

            Yep the government is in on the big Arai kick back scheme. I hear Bell is funding the Liberals and Shoe is hedging their bets with the conservatives.

          • “Governments work….in the interest of the corporate $ that put/keep them in power.”

            Sorry Trane, I don’t subscribe to the theory that there’s a conspiracy around every corner. There are checks and balances in place – they’re called elections. Not that I have much faith in the electorate to do the right thing…witness the Ontario Liberals still being in power.

            But hey, we’re all entitled to our opinions.

          • “Sorry Trane, I don’t subscribe to the theory that there’s a conspiracy around every corner. ”

            Neither do I and I never suggested that I did.

            “There are checks and balances in place – they’re called elections.”

            Yes, in a system that on anything other than a grassroots level requires mega $$$ in which to participate and is driven by corporate lobbying and favouritism. Keeping these checks and balances in place is challenging, but is EXACTLY what I meant by ‘The point is to be vigilant and be involved with the processes that determine what we can and cannot do.’

            Why you’re choosing to disagree is a bit of a mystery.

  10. I don’t believe in religious exemptions. Either we should all be free to choose to ride without a helmet (a turban does NOT qualify as protective head gear), or none of us. The fact that your choice to be observant of your religion means that you can’t wear a helmet should not be a consideration. You can either choose to remove the turban and wear a helmet, or choose to wear it and not ride. Otherwise we get into the absurd position of the government deciding which religious excuses for whatever are valid, and which aren’t.

      • Just to interpret properly what I said: it is obvious that an authority has final say in conditions and circumstances of traffic – we just do not own the road.

        But, it is on very individual to take issue of prime safety in their own hands. To some, not wearing helmet is acceptable and it should be their decision. Same is with form and shape of protective head gear (just look at some of those soup bowls pretending as helmets). By not doing so they do not endanger anyone else, it is solely their own business.

        • As long as their fatality isn’t included in my insurance premiums and they don’t take up extra money in the health care system, then it is their business.

      • You may be right, or not. But that’s a different discussion. I agree with you, in principle, although it is for people’s own good…

    • Agreed. In the UK (where I started my motorcycle life) a law was enacted in 1976 to exempt Sikhs from wearing crash helmets which always irked me somewhat. As an atheist I do find a lot of religious arguments somewhat bewildering, but I accept that trying to accommodate them is all part of an inclusive society, which I believe is a good thing.

      However, if the government decides that something is so important an issue that is must be written into law (and the helmet law is its own debate) then I don’t see how an exemption can be made to accommodate a religion. If you do say that it’s okay to wear a turban instead of a helmet then that must be extended to all riders, though at the same time it makes a mockery of the helmet law as a turban has likely no protective qualities at all (though I wouldn’t be surprised if Snell approved one).

      Also, it’s not like riding a motorcycle is a human right (though I think an argument could be made by many riders), and so it’s fair to say you either wear a helmet or you don’t ride at all.

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