Forcing a devout, motorcycle-riding Sikh to choose between his turban and a helmet is denying him the right to religious freedom, human rights lawyers argued Friday as Baljinder Badesha's fight against a $110 fine took on the character of a constitutional challenge.
Obliged to wear turbans outside the home, devout Sikhs who want to ride motorcycles are effectively forbidden from a "normal social activity available to all other Ontarians," Owen Rees, a lawyer with the Ontario Human Rights Commission, told the court.
"What the state is saying to Mr. Badesha is you have to choose between your religious beliefs or (abstain) in order to ride the motorbike," Rees said.
The helmet requirement under the province's Highway Traffic Act "discriminates" against Badesha because it violates his constitutional rights, Rees added.
Similar challenges have seen exemptions made for Sikh motorcyclists in British Columbia and Manitoba. The United Kingdom, Hong Kong and India also allow devout Sikhs to forego the helmet.
"My religion says we cannot put anything over our turban," Badesha said outside court. "I like to ride the motorcycles, so that's why we fight the case." [Link]
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