Sikhs lose challenge to helmet rule in Canada

March 7th, 2008 - 10:09 am ICT by admin  

By Gurmukh Singh
Brampton, March 7 (IANS) A city court has ruled that Sikhs in Ontario province cannot drive motorcycles without helmets. Ontario Court Judge James Blacklock gave his ruling Thursday while dismissing a challenge to the Ontario Highway Traffic Act by a local Sikh Baljinder Singh Badesha who was fined $110 in September 2005 for driving his motorcycle without a helmet.

Helmets are mandatory for all motorcyclists in Ontario under the law. Badesha, 39, who was supported by the Ontario Human Rights Commission, had taken the matter to the court, saying the helmet rule discriminated against him.

He said it violated his right to practice his religious beliefs under the Canadian Charter of Freedoms and Rights.

Blacklock, during his brief statement in the packed courtroom, said fining Badesha while driving his motorcycle without helmet didn’t amount to religious discrimination.

The 35-page judgment was distributed to the media before the judge made his brief statement in the courtroom.

Blacklock said: “The evidence before me shows that to ride a motorcycle helmetless involves the imposition of significant extra risks related to safety.”

The judge added that the Highway Traffic Act allowed no “accommodation” in Badesha’s case as helmets saved lives in highway crashes.

Allowing motorcyclists to drive without helmets posed undue hardship for the authorities to ensure safety on roads, the ruling said. Badesha was asked to pay the $110 ticket amount within a month. He can challenge the judgment within 15 days.

Speaking to the media outside the court, Badesha’s lawyer Melvin Sokolsky said they will study the judgment and then take a decision whether to challenge it, adding that the judge’s interpretation of the helmet rule is amenable to challenge in court.

He said laws in British Columbia (BC), Manitoba, Hong Kong, Britain and India that allow Sikhs to drive motorcycles without helmet could be cited in the challenge.

Unfazed by the adverse judgment, Badesha said he mounted this challenge as the Charter of Freedoms and Rights allowed him to practice his religious beliefs.

“The turban is a symbol of faith. We don’t remove it,” he said.

Asked whether he will violate the law again, he said: “Why should I when today’s ruling forbids me?”

Later, speaking to IANS, Badesha said: “We are meeting tomorrow (Friday) to decide what to do next. I feel discriminated against because there are laws in BC and Manitoba that exempt us from helmets.”

“How safe is a helmet?” he asked. “People die in accidents all the time. They die from other causes. In fact, smoking is the biggest killer and burden on the public exchequer…why don’t they stop it?”

In an angry tone, he added: “Sikhs make up not even three percent of the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) population. How many of them drive motorcycles? And for how many months? And how many accidents will happen if a few of them drove motorcycles during the months the weather permitted.”

His lawyer said Badesha would also consider appealing to politicians to change the helmet law in favour of Sikhs.

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