Ontario Premier Washes Decades Of Sikh Community’s Hard Work On The Helmet Law Down The Drain
Openly Gay Kathleen Wynne Has No Sympathies Or Understanding Of Another Visible Minority Group!
The World Sikh Association (WSO) had been working with the Ontario Liberal government on this issue formally since February 2011, and had secured the support of members from both opposition parties and all four Sikh Liberal MPPs. “Now that the premier and the Liberal Party have their majority, they have turned around and said no to us,” said Manohar Singh Bal, WSO secretary.
TORONTO – Ontario’s openly gay premier Kathleen Wynne has no sympathy of other visible minorities as she this week refused to provide an exemption on the Helmet law for turbaned Sikhs which has been place in other Canadian provinces, including here in BC, as well as many other countries around the world.
In her haste decision, Wynne has washed all the hard work the Sikh community has done in getting the helmet law exemption in Canada down the drain.
The World Sikh Organization of Canada said it is disappointed by the decision to not provide an exemption from helmet requirements for Sikh motorcyclists in the province.
“Sikhs in Ontario have been calling for a helmet exemption for turbaned Sikh motorcyclists for several years now. The wearing of the turban is an essential part of the Sikh identity and is a public demonstration of the Sikh values of equality and spirituality. Exemptions for Sikhs who maintain unshorn hair and habitually wear the turban have been successfully implemented in other provinces in Canada and across the world including the United Kingdom, India and elsewhere,” said WSO Ontario Vice President Prabmeet Singh Sarkaria.
“Carving out a narrow exception for Sikh motorcyclists would not compromise the objective of ensuring the reasonable safety of motorcyclists. We would note that exemptions for turbaned Sikh motorcyclists in British Columbia, Manitoba and elsewhere have had no actual impact on road safety or resulted in any significant additional costs. Without any evidence to the contrary, it is difficult to justify why a similar exemption cannot be provided in Ontario. We would encourage Premier Wynne to reconsider her decision.”
Manohar Singh Bal, WSO secretary, said Wynne personally passed members a letter confirming her position during a meeting last week, reported Toronto Sun newspaper.
The association had been working with the Liberal government on this issue formally since February 2011, and had secured the support of members from both opposition parties and all four Sikh Liberal MPPs, Bal said.
“Now that the premier and the Liberal Party have their majority, they have turned around and said no to us,” Bal said.
In her letter to the association, Wynne said she had promised during the spring election campaign that she would address the helmet exemption within 90 days of gaining office.
“The Ontario government recognizes the importance of preserving the fundamental right of religious expression. This right is a key pillar of our democracy and of our collective identity and must be balanced with public safety,” she said in her letter.
Research shows that motorcycle riders without helmets face a high risk of injury or death, and jurisdictions with a mandatory motorcycle helmet requirement have seen mortality rates plunge by 30%, she said.
Ontario courts have found that the mandatory helmet law does not infringe on religious rights under the Charter and Human Rights Code, Wynne added.
“After careful deliberation, we have determined that we will not grant this type of exemption as it would pose a road safety risk. Ultimately, the safety of Ontarians is my utmost priority, and I cannot justify setting that concern aside on this issue,” Wynne said.
Bal said the association’s call for an exemption has the support of numerous organizations and individuals, including the four Liberal MPPs — Vic Dhillon, Harinder Malhi, Amrit Mangat and Harinder Takhar — who wrote an open letter to Wynne calling it a “reasonable accommodation” of religious values.
Exemptions have been granted in British Columbia and Manitoba, and the experience has not pointed to more injuries for turban-wearing riders, Bal said.
“To categorize it that once turban (wearing) Sikhs will start riding a motorcycle they will start dying just doesn’t make any sense,” Bal said. “And they have not given any evidence, rational or logic behind it.”
WSO said it felt let down by the Liberal government, which had promised to bring in legislation that would provide the exemption.
“The premier has reversed her position, I will say, or has not followed through on the understandings and commitments that she gave,” Bal said.
Wearing a turban is part of their religion and dress code, he said. They can’t go out in public without wearing one.
“It’s part of their very being as a person,” Bal said.
Ontario Provincial Police allowed its uniformed officers to wear turbans long ago, but the province won’t grant Sikhs equality when it comes to the helmet law, he said.
“It’s mindboggling how they pick and choose where they want to accommodate Sikhs and where they don’t want to accommodate Sikhs,” he said.
“It’s just like we’re at the mercy of the majority that they will pick and choose which rights we are entitled to and which rights we are not entitled to, and this is a classic example of that.”
Turbaned NDP MPP Jagmeet Singh, who introduced a private member’s bill to support the helmet law exemption, said he’s also disappointed in the Liberals and will continue his efforts to protect all articles of faith.
“While the Wynne Liberals are happy to pay lip service to civil rights, when the rubber meets the road, this so-called activist premier is quick to deny the Sikh community rights recognized elsewhere,” he said in a statement.