Published: Monday, July 09, 2007
TORONTO - Paramount Canada's Wonderland awarded compensation to a Sikh man after he complained he was discriminated against for refusing to take off his turban and wear a helmet to drive a go-kart.
The amusement park has since asked the provincial regulator to allow it to exempt turban-wearing Sikhs from the helmet requirement, which is standard at go-kart operations throughout the country for insurance purposes.
Gurcharan Dran bought tickets for the Speed City Raceway attraction but was not allowed to ride because of a helmet use regulation, the Ontario Human Rights Commission reported last week.
He filed a complaint with the commission but due to a backlog, the case -- dating from 2001 --did not go to tribunal until last year. Mr. Dran reached a settlement with Paramount Canada's Wonderland last October, which included payment of an unknown amount.
Mr. Dran could not be reached for comment but Kevin Fox, his lawyer, said Mr. Dran "thinks [Paramount Canada's Wonderland] could have handled it a bit better when they told him to get off."
Mr. Fox said he did not know the details of the confrontation, but said Mr. Dran was in his fifties at the time.
Adam Hogan, a spokesman for Paramount Canada's Wonderland, located in Vaughan, said he was unfamiliar with how much Mr. Dran had been compensated and the details of the incident because it occurred in 2001.
But he did say the helmet requirement has not changed at the amusement park since the incident.
"Nobody can ride the ride without a helmet," Mr. Hogan said. "When it comes to safety, we don't make exceptions."
Paramount Canada's Wonderland and other businesses with go-kart tracks are required to enforce helmet use by the Technical Standards and Safety Authority, an arm's-length government agency.
The regulation is part of Ontario's Technical Standards and Safety Act, which also regulates roll bars and seat-belt use in go-karts.
As part of the settlement, Paramount Canada's Wonderland agreed to request an exemption to the helmet requirement for Sikhs from the Ministry of Government Services and the Technical Standards and Safety Authority. Both parties are in the process of reviewing the request, said Tom Ayres, a lawyer with the organization.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission is also seeking an exemption for Sikhs at all go-kart tracks in the province.
"We do take the requirements of the Ontario Human Rights Code very seriously, but this is a complex issue," said Sam Colalillo, a spokesman for the Ministry of Government Services. He said it was too early to speculate if and when an amendment would be made to the helmet law.
Hart Schwartz, the director of the Ontario Human Rights Commission's legal branch, suggested alternatives to the law such as designing safer cars or asking patrons to sign a liability waiver.
But in order to get exemptions to any regulations, there would have to be a safe alternative, Mr. Ayres said.
"No one's been able to give us a measure that will serve the same purpose as a helmet from a safety perspective," he said.
Similar laws for go-kart racing exist in other provinces, but not all. Richmond Go-Kart Track in Richmond, B.C., asks patrons to wear helmets, but only because the business's insurance company instructs them to, said employee Jack Picken.
"If someone with a turban came in, we'd encourage them to wear the helmet, but we wouldn't force them," he said.
Peter Primdahl, underwriting director at K&K Insurance Group in Mississauga, said he would be very reluctant to insure an amusement ride business if they allowed some patrons to ride without helmets -- even if the helmet law is amended.
"Any breach of [safety regulations], should it cause injury, would certainly have an impact on the insurance pricing and would be a very difficult insurance claim to defend," he said.
Religious freedom and helmet use legislation have come head-to-head before.
In November, a case is scheduled to be heard in Ontario involving a Sikh man who was charged with riding his motorcycle without a helmet.
In Manitoba and British Columbia there are exemptions to motorcycle helmet laws for Sikhs who wear turbans.
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