Religion, safety butt heads over turban rule at Canadian railway

| 8/31/2005

Officials with the Canadian Pacific Railway will negotiate with 500 Sikh truck drivers about an issue that pits safety against the group’s religious requirements.

The dispute started about two weeks ago after CPR banned the truckers from the rail yard because they refused to comply with a new rule requiring them to wear hard hats. The truckers had been contracted by various companies in the area, the Toronto Star reported.

According to the truckers’ lawyer, wearing the hard hats is difficult or impossible for the drivers, because of the Sikh religious requirement for its followers to wear turbans.

“The management in Ontario has been sensitive to these Sikh drivers and the issues surrounding the compatibility of wearing hard hats and turbans,” the truck drivers’ lawyer, Axy Leighl, told the Star.

The new rule is being viewed as discriminatory, not a safety issue, by some members of Canada’s 450,000 population of Sikhs.

“Sikhs have lived in this country for 108 years and the tradition (of turbans) has continued to bring us to loggerheads again and again,” Sher Singh, a Sikh leader and lawyer, told the Star. “For years, these drivers had come to work with their turbans. This is clearly not a safety issue.”

The group was expected to a file a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission on Thursday, but will most likely hold off in hopes of negotiating with the railway, the Star reported.

The hardhat rule has been suspended until talks are finished.