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Sikhs claim charter and employee rights infringed by helmet law

Canada is a country known as a place of religious and cultural tolerance. There are times, however, when the laws of the land conflict with traditional practices, and decisions have to be made. Sikh workers across the border from Ontario in Quebec have been arguing their religious freedom and employee rights are being violated by a law meant to protect them.

On Sept. 21, 2016, a Quebec Superior Court justice announced a ruling in a case that has been before the courts since 2006. The claimants are three Sikh truck drivers who operate container trucks at the Port of Montreal. All workers at the port are required to wear hard hats on the job, but the three men at the centre of the case are unable to wear helmets without removing their turbans. It is their belief that the requirement to remove their turbans was a violation of their charter rights.

In his decision, the justice ruled that the law did, indeed, conflict with their rights as made clear in both the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Quebec charter. However, he determined personal safety on the job was more important than religious freedom and upheld the decision of the port's management to forbid them to enter the site without appropriate headgear. According to the claimants' counsel, an appeal of the decision may be made.

It's a tricky situation, trying to balance all aspects of the law with the right to personal and religious freedom. Each province has its own Charter of Rights and Freedoms, in addition to the national charter. Workers in Ontario, who believe their charter or employee rights have been infringed, should consider speaking with an attorney who deals with employment law in this province.

Source: Toronto Star, "Quebec Sikh workers must wear safety helmets when required, judge rules", Sept. 23, 2016

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