Volume II, Issue I
The Dhillen Case
Dhillen was a practicing Sikh who wore a turban at all times, as required by faith. As such, it was impossible for him to wear a safety helmet. In the early nineties, he applied to take a driving test for a motorcycle license. The B.C. Motor Vehicles Division refused him this service because he refused, on religious grounds, to wear a helmet as required by s. 218 of the Motor Vehicle Act. In 1995, he filed a complaint of discrimination on the ground of religion. A B.C. Human Rights Tribunal ruled in favor of the complainant and ordered the Division to grant Dhillen a driving test. [Dhillen v. British Columbia Ministry of Transportation and Highways (1999), 35 C.H.R.R. D293 (B.C.H.R.T.)]
In its ruling, the Tribunal acknowledged that, for a practicing Sikh, wearing a turban is a bona fide religious requirement, and that, furthermore, it is impossible to wear a helmet over a turban. The Motor Vehicles Division's safety standard requiring that motorcyclists wear helmets therefore constitutes a case of prima facie discrimination. In accordance with the three-part test set forth by the Supreme Court in Meiron (1989), the Tribunal determined that while the standard was directly related to public safety and had been made in good faith, it was not reasonably necessary. To come to this conclusion, the Tribunal considered two factors set forth by the Central Alberta Dairy Pool (1990) case: safety and cost.
"Where safety is at issue", the Court in Central Alberta Dairy Pool had decided, "both the magnitude of the risk and the identity of those who bear it are relevant considerations". The Tribunal determined the magnitude of risk by comparing baseline risk and marginal risk. Based on statistical analysis, it found that "the baseline risk associated with helmeted motorcycling is serious injury resulting in, among other things, coma, paralysis or death"; but that "the increased risk associated with non-helmeted motorcycle riding by Sikhs who wear turbans" was insignificant. More specifically, the average number of annual motorcycle-related deaths would increase by less than 2 (from 34) and yearly motorcycle-related injuries would increase by between 2 and 13 (from 106). As for the identity of those bearing this marginal risk, the Tribunal found that only Sikhs wearing turbans would be affected. From the point of view of safety, accommodating Sikh motorcyclists does not constitute undue hardship.
Given that the presence of Sikh's driving motorcycles in B.C. would produce only 13 additional brain injuries per year, the Tribunal ruled that, once again, accommodating this religious group does not constitute undue hardship.
Further information on Religious Dress: Policy on Creed and the Accommodation of Religious Observances, s.7.1