Bikers are once again rallying against the helmet exemption for Sikhs in Alberta.
A group of 40 motorcyclists rode from Lacombe to the Alberta Legislature Saturday as part of the second Civil Disobedience Rally, protesting what they believe are discriminatory changes made to the Traffic Safety Act enabling turban-wearing Sikhs to ride without a helmet.
“We’re still trying to draw attention to the fact that the government has decided to write law based on people’s race, religion, colour or other defining factors and it’s against our Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” said rally organizer Keith Wegner.
“We’re trying to change it so the law is the same for all – either we ride without helmets, or we all ride with and we’re allowed to make that decision for ourselves.”
Their first rally took place in mid-September, with many bikers opting not to wear helmets as part of their protest. By the time the group had made it to the Lacombe County Administration Office, they’d already been pulled over by the RCMP for a first time. By the time the rally was over, Wegner and local rider Jannaleigh Miller both had court dates as a result of multiple tickets for riding lidless.
Wegner’s court date for the helmet violation was scheduled in April 2019, and it was then that a charter challenge was launched. His court date has since been moved back to June 28.
The exemption was first put into place by the former NDP government in April 2018. The changes made Alberta the third province in Canada, following B.C., Manitoba and preceding Ontario, to allow turban-wearing members of Sikh faith to ride both motorcycles and off-highway vehicles without a helmet.
More than 52,000 people identify as being Sikh in Alberta – the third highest population in Alberta, while Sikhism is the ninth largest religion in the world. In their religion, the protection of hair and wearing of a turban is a show of respect towards their god, and further an integral symbol of their identity.
Wegner has said he’s spoken to some members of the Sikh community, and while he understands the rationale behind the changes, says he still can’t support the exemption.
“I’ve got nothing against the Sikh community, or any race, creed or colour for that matter. This isn’t a fight against them,” he said. “It’s our government trying to divide us and make rules based on things other than law.”
Safety is also a major concern, particularly with one of the riders on hand involved in a recent collision, and other personal friends of the bikers either injured or killed while riding. To that end, they hosted a silent auction in support of One Broken Biker, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping injured riders.
Most of the bikers in attendance said the only time they’d ever ride lidless is during the rally, which left Lacombe about 12:15 p.m. and used rural highways rather than the QEII to get to the Legislature.
“The only time I won’t be wearing a helmet is during the rally. This isn’t so I can ride without a helmet,” Wegner said. “I think there’s a benefit to wearing a helmet and so my choice is to wear at all times whether the law changes or not, but there need to be one law for all Albertans and all Canadians for that matter.”
Many of the riders have also contacted government officials, including Minister of Transportation Ric Mciver, however, with a charter challenge before the courts, Mciver’s response back, as per a letter posted to the Civil Disobedience Rally 2019 Facebook page, has been that he’s unable to discuss the matter.