Posted on May 11, 2018

‘This Is Our Religion, This Is Our Pride’: Sikh Motorcyclists Now Exempt from Helmets in Alberta

Juris Graneym, Edmonton Journal, May 10, 2018

When Bhupinder Singh passed the test to get his Class 6 motorcycle licence at the start of the month, he was one of the first Sikhs in Alberta to qualify under a newly created helmet exemption.

Whether he was the first or not is of little consequence to the 42-year-old. More important is that his fellow Sikhs are now allowed to express their religion while riding motorcycles in Alberta.

On April 12 a ministerial order amending the Traffic Safety Act took effect, exempting bonafide members of the Sikh religion from wearing a helmet.

Singh could barely wait.

Having already passed his knowledge exam in early April, he booked himself the earliest time slot he could on May 1 at the Summerside registry to take the road test.

“Yeah I was nervous,” he said Wednesday from his home in southeast Edmonton.

He shouldn’t have been. He passed on the first try.

Now, like every motorcyclist on the Prairies, he waits anxiously for every single one of those glorious sunny, warm days to back his motorcycle out of the garage and hit the open road.

Those rides are not only a relaxing pastime but they also serve as a teaching moment about his religion.

“If you can spread your knowledge, that’s a good thing,” he said.

“There are still so many people who don’t know who we are, so when we explain it to them they have a curiosity and ask more and more.”

Hair and the protection of hair is of great importance in the Sikh religion, he said, and covering the head is giving respect to their god.

It’s that message he likes to share with people when they ask about his turban when he’s out riding his 2013 Harley-Davidson V-Rod. There is no special symbol on a driver’s licence, the only requirement is that the driver self-identify as Sikh and is wearing a turban.

He said any public backlash against helmet exemption was a lack of knowledge of Sikh religion and the importance of the turban.

Singh also shrugs of concerns for his personal safety and points to the First and Second World Wars in which turban-wearing Sikh fought alongside helmet-wearing British soldiers.

“If you think this is dangerous, do you think a bullet is more or less dangerous than a collision,” he said.

“We fought in world wars … and in all that time we were just wearing turbans. We never wore any helmets because if that is our destiny … then we are ready for that.

“This is our religion, this is our pride.”

Any plans for a cross-Canada road trip will have to be put on hold however — Alberta joins British Columbia and Manitoba in offering the exemption but Saskatchewan has no such rules.

“That’s OK, I’ll just come back from the border,” he said, laughing.

“Sooner or later all over Canada they will allow us. That day will come for sure.”

According to the 2011 Census, Alberta’s 52,000-plus Sikh population is the third largest in Canada.