Brian Mason, Minister of Transportation, Alberta
Dear Minister of Transportation in the province of Alberta;
Mr. Brian Mason...
I wrote to Mr. Mason's office regarding the Sikh motorcycle community obtaining an exemption from the helmet law, as of yet, I still have not heard back.

I also placed a call to the deputy minister, Mr. Barry Day, again, no response as of yet.

It is hard for citizens who do not have an organization that can be their face, their leader, the person who can sit across the table from the politicians and hold them accountable.

The fact that the motorcycle community across most of Canada is not "organized" in any meaningful way, means that we don't have much say in the discussions and others decide our fate for us. Often times, even when we do have that person, that organization at the table, things don't go well, but at least one's point of view can be acknowledged.

I have sat in on the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators meetings as an interested vulnerable road user, back in the day when Adele Tompkins used to do the lobbying to protect choice for BC motorcyclists through BCCOM. They (the experts of the CCMTA) pushed so hard to enforce a helmet law; Adele lobbied and worked so hard to make these people realize that in her province, choice is what taxpaying adults wanted.

The argument the experts offered was one of safety, personal injury, death, brain injury and spinal cord injury and the drain on public, taxpayer funded resources.

That argument eventually cost BC riders their beloved beanie.

So let's learn a little about the Sikh's and why they can't wear helmets as part of their faith and the risks and accommodations they have been willing to undertake in order to do things they enjoy (work or pleasure).

The turban is a visual symbol that the wearer is of the Sikh faith.
In India, the Sikh community is disproportionally represented in the military.
In India, the Sikh soldier does not wear a helmet, they wear their turban.
They do not wear a helmet to ride motorcycle there either, they wear their turban.

Here is an informative website on the Sikh faith and why the turban and the other 4 symbols of their faith are so sacred to them:

OK - I get it. This is a faith based article of clothing.
It is special and symbolic and if you are a devout Sikh, you must wear it.

The Sikh Motorcycle Community fought for the exemption to the helmet law under their rights from the Canadian Charter of Freedoms & Rights, they fought it in BC, in Manitoba, Alberta and are fighting, again in Ontario.

Yet, in Canada, Turban wearing Sikhs are not allowed out of their trucks at docks because of liability issues. At this moment, nowhere in Canada that I can find, is a work site that allows them to work on site, without a hard hat.

In a September 2016 article in the National Post, the gentleman who fights for a lot of the helmet laws to be repealed in Canada, Balpreet Singh stated that: "The World Sikh Organization of Canada, in fact, now advises against trying to convince Canadian courts to permit Sikh exemptions for protective headgear. “Largely it’s about liability, they don’t want to be on the hook for any accident that involves a turban-wearer,” said Balpreet Singh, the organization’s legal counsel.
Singh was instrumental in a 2012 decision that allowed kirpans — a small, stylized sword worn by Sikhs — to be permitted in Toronto courtrooms. But speaking to the National Post by phone, he suggested that Canadian law hits a brick wall when it comes to trading safety for religious accommodation. No Canadian court will back a turban exemption “if there is a genuine risk of injury or death,” he said.
Currently, there are only two places in Canada where turban-wearing Sikhs can find a codified exemption from a safety requirement. In Manitoba, “bona fide members of the Sikh religion” are not required to wear helmets while motorcycling. In B.C., a similar motorcycle helmet exemption is open to any Sikh who “has unshorn hair and habitually wears a turban composed of 5 or more square meters of cloth.” End Quote

Canada is a warm, open and welcoming country, but we are a country ruled by laws.
When a law no longer makes sense it is time to call for a revision to that law.

In British Columbia, Alberta and Manitoba, where Sikhs are now allowed to exercise their choice to ride or not ride (read wear a helmet and ride, don't wear a helmet, don't ride), the rest of the motorcycle community in these three provinces should now be afforded the right to wear or not wear a helmet.

Quoted from the same 2016 National Post Article above:
The B.C. exemption, enacted after a 1999 human rights tribunal decision, was made with the full knowledge that it would likely result in more Sikhs getting killed on B.C. highways. A detailed accounting contained in the decision surmised that exempting Sikhs from the helmet law would raise motorcycle fatalities by as much as two per year, and brain injuries by as much as 10.
“However … I am not persuaded that the increased risk associated with non-helmeted motorcycling is so substantial that it constitutes undue hardship,” wrote tribunal member Frances Gordon. END QUOTE

The fact of the matter is that while the Sikh Motorcycle Community has fought for and won the right to exercise their choice/freedom under our charter, the rest of us are being discriminated against and that's not right.  BUT - we can't allow this issue to cause a divide in the motorcycle community either.
The Sikh motorcycle community fought for the right to ride a motorcycle and stay faithful to their religion. That's a honourable fight that they won and their win has opened the door for the rest of us to mount our own challenge.

Our government should have considered this fact when they made this decision, but they didn't and now we, the motorcycle community have two choices, before us:

#1) feel frustrated and or jealous that our Sikh brothers and sisters can ride wearing only their turbans, and do what we always do, bellyache and grumble but not much else.


#2) we can lobby our government to do the right thing and make choice part of the equation for all who ride and let us have the beanie back.

If the reason the motorcycle helmet law is in place for everyone else, is because of the risk of death and injury, then the law must apply to all. If that no longer holds true, as it is now evident, then every rider over 18 should be allowed choice in the provinces that allow Sikhs the right to ride without a helmet.

We live in a nanny state of a country that wants to treat all adults like we are children not capable of making our own risk level decisions. I understand that they want to prevent the drain on the emergency services and health services resources, but you can allow people the right to choice and also ask that they pay the price for their choice. 

Sikh's who wanted the right to work on construction sites and the docks in the UK gave up some insurance rights in order to do work they wanted to do...
Riding a motorcycle (like driving a car) according to every police officer who has ever stopped me, is a privilege not a right.

The public purse is about all of us, taxpayers all...this isn't like the US where there is no universal health care and everyone is truly on their own.

Canada has universal healthcare, taxpayer paid for healthcare.
Every privilege comes with great responsibility and if you are ok with dying or being a body with no quality of life due to brain/spinal cord injury and leaving your family to care for you, that's your choice and you should be providing for them, not the taxpayer.  Purchase extra medical insurance or wear a helmet.

I think that all riders should have choice and have the privilege of paying for that choice.

Since I gave up my beanie, I have worn a DOT Helmet and now that they are light and don't affect my neck so badly, I am content to wear a DOT helmet.

If you aren't, then you need to form an ABATE Chapter/join one and learn how to lobby the government.

And that's just my two cents worth.

Belt Drive Betty
Editor & Rider

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  1. If the Government of Alberta wants to put religion above safety then lets bring up a few points. First of all, riding, or driving in general is a privilege not a right. So,if you choose to obtain a drivers license or motorcycle license, you pass a series of written and practical tests to prove your understanding of vehicle operation and the laws governing it. So, if one chooses to pursue the desire to obtain a motorcycle license, does'nt one do it knowingly, unless you have lived under a rock for 115yrs,that their is a requirement, by law, to wear a helmet ? So, if someone who already has a religious caveat that they believe prevents them from wearing a helmet, why would you pursue a privileged hobby or activity you are not able to perform in the first place? So, back to the beginning. If the Alberta government wants to trump safety with religion, then I say have a read of Corinthians 11:2-16. In short: a man shall not cover his head as he is the image of God. Different interpretations of the bible have different wording but all basically state the same. So, it sounds to me that ALL Christians can pose the same arguement to Mr. Brian's against my religious beliefs to cover my head.
    Just something to think about. I'm all about choice but if the Government has already found that religious beliefs trump safety then sign me up !