Alberta to allow turban-wearing Sikhs right to ride motorcycles without helmets

Alberta is the third Canadian jurisdiction to allow turban-wearing Sikhs to ride a motorcycle without a helmet.

Province joins Manitoba and B.C. in allowing exemption, which comes into effect in Alberta on April 12

A picture on the Sikh Motorcycle Club of Edmonton's website shows Rod Loyola, the NDP MLA for Edmonton-Ellerslie, addressing members of the club. (CBC)

Turban-wearing Sikhs in Alberta will be allowed to ride motorcycles without a helmet starting April 12. 

The exemption to the vehicle equipment regulation in the Traffic Safety Act was amended by an order from Transportation Minister Brian Mason, the provincial government announced Thursday.

Manitoba and British Columbia already have an exemption. 

Mason said the exemption was granted at the request of the Sikh community as recognition of their civil and religious rights. 

"We think that the number of people who will be wearing a turban and not a helmet is going to be very small," Mason said. "So we decided on the balance that this was the right thing to do." 

Mason said the province's Sikh community has requested the exemption for the past 30 years. It applies to drivers and passengers over the age of 18 who are members of the Sikh religion. 

Gurpeet Pandher from the Sikh Motorcycle Club of Edmonton said in a statement on Facebook that the law change announcement is a "milestone and memorable day" in Alberta history. 

"This change will bring some new opportunities/ businesses to bike repair shops/ after market accessories shops and Motorcycle Dealerships etc.," he wrote.

Putting lives at risk

The change means Gulwant Gill can finally ride a motorcycle.

The Edmonton man obtained his motorcycle licence two years ago but didn't ride because he would have to remove his turban to wear a helmet. 

"It really means a whole lot more than I can even explain with words how it feels to be accepted wholeheartedly as you are, as opposed to thinking, 'Hey, it's just a turban why can't you put it off to the side?" he said. 

Emergency room physician Dr. Louis Francescutti  said he remains concerned about the dangers of riding without a helmet. 

"The reality is this is going to put people's lives at risk and it's something that unfortunately didn't get debated publicly," he said. 

Francescutti, who rides motorcycles, said he couldn't imagine riding without a helmet. 

"It's beyond my comprehension in 2018 that we're even having this discussion,"  he said.

The Sikh Motorcycle Club of Edmonton credited Rod Loyola, the NDP MLA for Edmonton-Ellerslie, for taking the lead on the issue. 

Mason acknowledged Loyola has a large number of Sikh constituents, but said the exemption was granted on religious grounds.