Avtar Singh Dhillon

THE Liberals got rid of the B.C. Human Rights commission because it didn’t suit their agenda on a variety of issues.

But now Sikhs are appealing to British Columbian voters to support candidates who support a B.C. Human Rights Commission to be reinstated because they want turbaned Sikhs to be exempt from wearing a hardhat in the workplace.

Over 21,000 British Columbians had signed a petition to this effect last year. This petition was also supported by all BC gurdwara societies including all head priests (granthis).

The response from representatives of the provincial government was disappointing.

“Government does not have plans at this time to introduce specific legislation that will provide such an exemption,” wrote Shirley Bond, Minister for Jobs, Tourism and Training and Minister for Responsible for Labour

“If an employee feels that the employer is not taking appropriate steps to accommodate the religious needs of the employee, then the employee may seek the advice of the BC Human Rights Clinic or file a complaint with the BC Human Rights Tribunal,” wrote David Merner, Executive Director, Dispute Resolutions Office, Ministry of the Attorney General, on behalf of Suzanne Anton, Minister of Justice and Attorney General.

“With the above responses from the current government, it is requested that you please contact your provincial candidate and request them to reinstate the BC Human Rights Commission which has helped minorities in the past and has helped the Sikh and many other communities get the rights they deserve,” said well-known community activist Avatar Singh Dhillon.

Dhillon’s fight for the Sikhs’ right to wear a turban on motorcycles led to the amendment of the Motor Vehicle Act and the BC Safe Riding Guide in 1999 as follows: “In British Columbia, all riders and their passengers are required to wear approved motorcycle safety helmets.  An exception to this requirement is made for people of the Sikh religion with unshorn hair who wear full turbans.”

Dhillon said: “The BC Human Rights Commission is the only solution to getting the rights we deserve.”

In a backgrounder, Dhilon notes: “According to the Sikh rehat maryada (code of conduct), the turban (dastaar) is an integral part of the Sikh identity. We have been living in Canada for generations, the same country where our forefathers used to wear turbans while working on job sites. It was 1970 when the Workers Compensation Board (WCB) law was brought forward, which made a hard hat essential in the workplace. Many Sikhs had to cut their hair and lose their identity to wear hard hats and work. It is also a fact that we were fewer at that time. Now the time has been changed. Now we are citizens here in Canada, and our children are born Canadians and we are aware of our rights and duties. It is our duty to provide all religious and social rights to our future generations. Now is the right time to demand our rights and push for amendments in WCB legislation. If not, our children will have to remove their dastaar in order to succeed in the workplace. As we know, other countries like the United States of America and the United Kingdom have provided Sikhs these rights. As we are in an election period in British Columbia, now is the right time to advocate for our rights and support those who will push for these changes. Please take time to reach out to your local candidates and support this cause to make our voice heard, and push for this change.”