by Ellen Pinkos Cobb
In a recent Quebec case, Sikh plaintiffs sought to be exempt from the requirement to wear a helmet when, in the exercise of their truck driver trade, they left their truck in terminals operated by the defendants in the Port of Montreal to deliver or receive containers. The plaintiffs, required by the Sikh religion to wear turbans, argued they needed to be exempted for religious reasons from wearing a helmet.
For close to three years, the defendant set up an accommodation for the Sikh truck drivers who refused to wear a helmet, changing the container loading procedures on their trailers to ensure that they remained at all times within the cab of their truck. This measure was rejected by the plaintiffs. The defendant asserted concern about the risk of accidents to the head in circumstances when drivers must descend from their vehicles, identify the midst of container stacks that they must recover, and also when guided by signs the operator of the gantry crane filing the container on the trailer of the truck.
Although the Court recognized that the policy requiring the use of helmets contravened the right of applicants to freedom of religion and discriminated, it concluded that, here, the beneficial effects of the policy, or ensuring the safety of people working at defendants’ terminals, outweighed the harmful effects suffered by the plaintiffs or the use of helmets for five to ten minutes where they travel on foot at the port during transport or, alternatively, their decision not to carry out transport containers at terminals operated by the defendants.
Singh v. Montreal Gateway Terminals Partnership (CP Ships Ltd. Ltd./Navigation CP), 2016 QCCS 4521