Sikhs in Ontario are now allowed to ride in a turban instead of a helmet, joining riders in three other Canadian provinces as Australian Sikhs seek the same exemptions.
The Ontario government has granted the rule waivers to Sikhs in recognition of their civil rights and religious expression after a bill presented by parliamentarian and Sikh Prabmeet Sarkaria.
“The wearing of the turban is an essential part of the Sikh faith and identity, and exemptions for Sikhs have been successfully implemented in other provinces in Canada and across the world,” he said.
Sikhs are also exempt from wearing motorcycle helmets in Indian, Pakistan (in Peshawar only), the Canadian provinces of Alberta, Manitoba and British Columbia, and the UK introduced the exemption in 1976. In New Zealsnd, they can ride with a turban instead of a helmet at speeds under 60km/h.
However, Denmark is following France by cracking down on helmet exemptions that allow riders to go without a helmet if they obtain a doctor’s note or have a legitimate non-medical reason such as wearing a turban.
The Sikh Motorcycle Club of Australia told us last year that motorcycle and bicycle helmet rules are discriminatory.
They are calling for an exemption for all cyclists and for motorcyclists and scooterists riding at low speeds only.
Founding member Daljeet Singh told us that while initiated male and female Sikhs must cover their hair with a turban, Sikh Motorcycle Club members wear a bandana-style scarf underneath their helmets.
The Central Coast of NSW Sikhs say they have campaigned to Coffs Coast Council for the right to not wear helmets on city streets signposted up to 60km/h.
However, the matter would have to be decided by the NSW Centre for Road Safety (CRS). Neither council nor the CRS can find any record of contact from the group.
There are about 126,000 Sikhs in Australia, according to the 2016 Australian Bureau of Statistics census. It is the fifth largest religion after Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism.
Victoria has seen the sharpest increase in the number of Sikhs with 52,762. The state with the second highest Sikh population is NSW with 31,737 Sikhs, Queensland 17,433, Western Australia 11,897, South Australia 8808, ACT 2142 and Northern Territory and Tasmania have under 700 Sikhs each.
Why do Sikhs wear turbans? Here is an explanation from Sikh Council of Australia’s website.
Unshorn hair (‘Kesh’) are also an essential part of the Sikh Code of Conduct. This makes Turban an essential part of a Sikh’s attire. Like the ‘Kirpan’ issue, this is another issue where the Government and its departments as well as the wider Australian community need to be informed about the importance of the Turban for a Sikh. More importantly, in order to tackle the hate crimes and discrimination based on the ‘looks’ the Australian community is being educated about the distinction between a Sikh and other members of the community who may also wear a Turban or cover their head or perhaps may look the same due to other items of clothing (for example the salwar and kameez for the women).
Hopefully the Government will introduce measures which will allow the wider Australian community to be more aware and tolerant and not discriminate against someone wearing a Turban and not assume that they might be a terrorist.