A judge in Brampton, Ont., rejected a human rights challenge to an Ontario law on Thursday, ruling that motorcyclists must wear helmets while riding because safety concerns outweigh religious rights.
Ontario court of justice Judge James Blacklock ruled against a challenge to the Ontario Highway Traffic Act that had been launched by Baljinder Badesha, a devout Sikh who was fined $110 in 2005 for not wearing a helmet while riding a motorcycle.
Badesha, who was wearing a turban at the time, refused to pay the fine, arguing that the law was discriminatory because it violated his religious rights.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission had supported his position, saying the issue was about religious accommodation.
Blacklock said "no accommodation appears possible" under the law because there is no question that helmets reduce the risk of head injuries suffered by motorcyclists in crashes.
He said allowing Badesha, along with other Sikh motorcyclists, to ride a motorcycle without wearing a helmet would put "undue hardship" on the province to maintain safety standards.
Badesha said after the ruling that his religion dictates that he refrain from wearing a helmet. "We cannot put anything over the turban. It's against our religion."
Mel Sokolsky, his lawyer, said his client is hoping that the Ontario government will consider changes to the law to exempt Sikh men from wearing helmets while riding motorcycles.
A group of Sikh men, all wearing turbans, gathered outside the courtroom to support Badesha in his fight against the law.
Manjit Mangat, one of his supporters, said the fight will continue. "We have to educate this community more, including the government and decision-makers," he said.
"They don't know our culture and religion. I think they have to be educated more and we will keep working on it."
The ruling is contrary to other rulings on the same issue in B.C., Manitoba, the United Kingdom, Hong Kong and India.
Exemptions were made in those jurisdictions for Sikh motorcyclists, allowing devout Sikhs to wear turbans instead of helmets.
Badesha has 30 days to pay the $110 fine for not wearing a helmet while riding his motorcycle.