Sikh's may now legally ride helmetless in Ontario

It’s finally here. The moment for which Prabmeet Sarkaria, Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, has been lobbying for the past several years.  "The wearing of the turban is an essential part of the Sikh faith and identity,” stated Sarkaria, “and exemptions for Sikhs have been successfully implemented in other provinces in Canada and across the world."  In the UK, Sikhs have had the freedom to ride helmetless without fear of being penalized, since 1976. The other three provinces of Canada to have led the charge were: British Columbia in 1999, Manitoba in 2000, and Alberta earlier this year.

Of course, the reaction to this ruling has been swift and fierce. Even supporters of the present Progressive Conservative are incensed. Included in amongst the mockery and disdain for Sikhs are requests that insurance and/or healthcare not be issued to individuals who don’t wear helmets.

In an editorial response to last week’s announcement, a reader wrote: “Obviously motorcyclists not wearing helmets are going to be more vulnerable to serious head injuries than people who do, possibly resulting in higher insurance premiums and greater expense to our publicly-funded medicare system.”  Perhaps best to check in with the precedent-setting provinces before leaning on that seemingly-logical reason to sling mud.

As it stands, on Thursday, October 18th, Bill 41, the Highway Traffic Amendment Act (Helmet Exemption for Sikh Motorcyclists), 2018 will grant the exemption in recognition of Sikh motorcycle riders' civil rights and religious expression.

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Warning: Canadian Opinions Ahead

The promise was a political move to get support for his bid to become Premier of Ontario - Canada’s most populated province. This spring, then candidate Doug Ford—brother of disgraced former Toronto Mayor the late Rob Ford—made a calculated appearance at the Toronto Motorcycle Spring Show. Although it was a struggle to make it through the swamp of suburban supporters, he clearly had a mission—to shake hands and take plenty of photos with Ontario’s Sikh Motorcycle Club. The SMC was there “Advocating for Helmet Exemption for Turban Wearing Sikhs.”

You see, despite persistent and consistent lobbying, the group had yet to achieve its objective to convince the province to bend the rules so they could ride legally in the eyes of both their local and religious laws. Reactions to the proposed changes were swift and predictable. From “I support them. I’ll keep my helmet.” to “I'm gonna where a turban, and get a confederate patch on the back of my vest.” (Anyone who wants to explain the connection, please do.)

Doug Ford pressing the flesh with the Sikh Motorcycle Club.

Doug Ford pressing the flesh with the Sikh Motorcycle Club.

Also present at the party were the “logical” responses, healthcare ostensibly based on insurance premiums. After all, brain damaged motorcyclists must be the number one drain on the publicly funded healthcare system, and the reason premiums keep going up, right? Problem is, as with most reasonable-arguments-to-disguise-racism, there are no facts, anecdotal or otherwise, to substantiate the claims.

I’ve called around for many an insurance quote and know plenty of other people who have too. Funny thing is, gear is never the issue. Your bike's cubic centimeters? Yup. Replacement value? Yes. Accident history—not your's, but of the bike's—or likelihood of theft? Again, yes.

Not a single insurance agency has ever been known request evidence that a rider is wearing a DOT, SNELL, or ECE approved full-faced helmet nor about propensities toward beating the heat by riding in shorts, t-shirt and flip flops. We’ve all seen those riders, but never on the side of the road getting a ticket.

In the end, isn’t it about personal choice? Riding a motorcycle is fun, and it’s also dangerous. Wearing a helmet increases your chances of surviving a motorcycle accident, so does wearing ATGATT. But lots of riders prefer the freedom to the function. Why not extend that right to everyone?

Source: Driving.ca, Toronto Sun, Ontario Government