On March 6th, Ontario Court Judge James Blacklock issued an opinion denying Baljinder Singh Badesha the right to wear his turban unhindered while riding a motorcycle. Badesha, a devout Sikh whose practice does not allow his turban to be covered, began combating the traffic citation he received for not wearing a helmet three years ago. UNITED SIKHS has been instructed by Badesha to assist in his appeal, filed earlier this month.
In his judgment, Judge Blacklock primarily relied on the premise that by not wearing a helmet, Badesha would impose a higher burden on the healthcare system, and therefore that burden outweighed Badesha's religious freedoms guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Many supporters of Badesha's case, within and outside the Sikh community, found this reasoning faulty because other completely optional practices are allowed which burden the healthcare system to a much higher degree, such as smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol.
After paying the fine of $110, Badesha filed an appeal which included, among other grounds, that the judge misinterpreted both facts and law in his ruling that Ontario's discrimination was reasonable and justified under the Human Rights Code and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The appeal also states that Judge Blacklock took into account facts that were not established by the record, leading to an incorrect analysis of the case.
In a meeting with Badesha and the Sikh Community of Toronto, Jaspreet Singh, Staff Attorney of UNITED SIKHS stated, "The decision raises concern for Sikhs around the world. Sikhs fought in WWI and WWII, currently serve in armed forces in many countries and as part of UN peacekeeping forces, and ride motorcycles in many countries, all with their turbans intact and uncovered. The turban is an identifying characteristic of a Sikh, and Mr. Badesha should not have to choose between practicing his faith and riding a motorcycle."
The provinces of British Columbia and Manitoba have laws allowing Sikhs to ride motorcycles without helmets. While Manitoba's law was enacted by the legislature, the law in British Columbia was established by a tribunal that calculated the actual costs to the healthcare system to be minuscule, based on the small percentage of riders. Sikhs only make up approximately 3% of the population of Ontario, and only a very small fraction of that percentage would ride motorcycles.
However, Judge Blacklock was not persuaded by these figures estimating the actual costs to the healthcare system as negligent, and was unwilling to grant any exemption, even though many would argue that riding a motorcycle is a dangerous activity in itself.
Commenting on Judge Blacklock's decision, Badesha stated, "If health costs are the deciding factor to restrict my religious freedoms, why do we allow optional activities like smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol, both of which cause widespread health problems and therefore burden the healthcare system to a much larger degree?"
UNITED SIKHS has been instructed by Badesha to assist in the appeal and in coordinating lobbying efforts for an exemption, and will be educating and garnering support among the general community to protect Sikh rights to wear the turban.
You may read a previous press release on UNITED SIKHS' action to protect religious freedoms at: http://www.unitedsikhs.org/PressReleases/PRSRLS-13-03-2008-00.htm
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