Sikh's helmet plea dismissed in Canada

A Canadian court has dismissed a Sikh's plea challenging the mandatory wearing of helmet while riding a motorcycle but admitted that the law did violate his constitutional right to religious freedom.

Baljinder Badesha, a 39-year-old father of four who immigrated from India to Canada in 1989, was fighting a USD110 ticket he received in September 2005 for not wearing a helmet over his turban while riding his motorcycle.

He had claimed that the law discriminates against Sikhs because their religion obliges them to cover their hair with nothing more than a turban.

Ontario's Justice W J Blacklock ruled that the law indeed violates Badesha's constitutional right to religious freedoms, but is justifiable under Section 1 of the Canadian Charter for Rights and Freedom because the safety measure dramatically reduces public healthcare costs and saves lives.

''Given the nature of Badesha's beliefs, which foreclose him from wearing anything over his turban, and yet the unquestioned safety and related issues, this is one of those cases in which, unfortunately, no accommodation appears possible,'' the judge ruled on the case that took more than two years to move through the courts.

The evidence, Justice Blacklock said, showed that to ride a motorcycle helmetless involves the imposition of significant extra risks related to safety and would put ''undue hardship'' on the province.

Badesha's lawyer Melvin Sokolsky said they would file appeal against the judgment. Badesha and his supporters told local media they were not disheartened by the ruling and they would now lobby the government to change the law.

India and Britain exempt Sikhs from wearing helmets and so do the Canadian provinces of Manitoba and British Columbia, where a human-rights challenge led to the exemption.