True to the form of his riding predecessors, Avtar Singh Dhillon took a stand for his beliefs and transformed British Columbia laws in the process.
Dhillon emigrated to Canada in 1970 and, as a baptized Sikh, stood out in crowds thanks to his traditional turban and beard – signs of the Sikh faithful. Throughout his early tenure in Canada, Dhillon was challenged many times, bouncing from job to job due to his inability to adhere to safety codes. As a practicing Sikh, Dhillon is forbidden to remove his turban and thus could not wear hardhats at construction sites, limiting his ability to work to only low paying jobs while trying to provide for his family.
Dhillon could also not ride since a motorcycle helmet cannot fit over a turban either. After feeling the freedom and thrilling exhilaration of riding in his home state of Punjab, Dhillon attempted numerous times over the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s to obtain a BC motorcycle license but was turned away each time for a lack of a helmet. During this time, Dhillon petitioned to the government but was ultimately unsuccessful.
Finally, in 1995 Dhillon filed a complaint with the BC Human Right’s Commission and, backed by the support of the Sikh community and the British government (who had allowed turbaned Sikh riders to enjoy the open road since 1976), Dhillon challenged the BC Ministry of Transportation and Highways.
The hearing took place March 18-20, 1997 at the Vancouver Art Gallery and generated a lot of interest from the community in general, the Sikh community specifically and members of the Vancouver and Surrey Senior Centers. In the end, the Human Rights Tribunal ordered the Government of BC to amend the motorcycle helmet law to accommodate for Sikh’s wearing a turban. This significant victory lead to the amendment of the Motor Vehicle Act by the Provincial Government, accepted on July 19, 1999.
Due to his tireless efforts, determination and Sikh faith, Mr. Dhillon not only changed the laws of our land but also changed the way we see riders today. Members of the BC Chapter of the Sikh Motorcycle Club can be seen on the streets today proudly riding the streets, with their faith intact. After 30 years of perseverance and dedication Avtar Singh Dhillon stands as a great example of one man making a change because of what he believes in.