Helmet versus turban

Baljinder Badesha is an unhappy motorcyclist because he was fined $110 for not wearing a helmet. He’s a devout Sikh who wears a turban and therefore insists the helmet law violates his religious freedom.

There are two ways to look at this. Use of a motor vehicle is not a right. The law requires the operator of a motorcycle wear a helmet. Badesha refuses to wear a helmet so he therefore chooses to not use a motorcycle.

On the other hand, if the law allows a religious exception, he could indeed use a motorcycle. In my opinion, he should then to accept responsibility for the greater likelihood of injury. I’d suggest that he be responsible for paying at least some of his medical bills if he requires medical care for a head injury suffered during a motorcycle accident. I expect insurance companies would be very hesitant to provide such helmet-exempt riders with coverage. Still, this is a consequence of choosing to use a motorcycle without a helmet.

The second view doesn’t sit well with me because the reason for the exemption does nothing to address the problem addressed by the law. Therefore, the reason for the exemption is meaningless. Anyone should be able to enjoy the exemption if they’re willing to accept the consequences.

The religious aspect is a red herring. Do we wish to allow an exemption to the helmet law? If so, we need to determine the consequences for a rider injured while not wearing a helmet. Once the consequences are known, Badesha can weight the consequences and make his decision.

He sees unfairness in having to wear a helmet. I see unfairness in having to pay (through my taxes) for treatment of an injury that wouldn’t have happened, or wouldn’t have been as severe, if he had been wearing a helmet.

Badesha was fined in 2005. The Ontario Human Rights Commission thought Badesha’s religious beliefs should trump the law. Today, the CBC reported a Brampton judge rejected the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s legal challenge. Badesha has 30 days to pay the fine.

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