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Lidless Sikh loses court case

Remember the Sikh in Ontario who went to court claiming that forcing him to wear a helmeyt was discrimination against his religion? Well he lost his court case.

The motorcycle-riding Sikh, who fought Ontario's helmet law on the grounds his religion compels him to wear a turban, lost his court battle Thursday in a ruling that has been dsecribed by fellow Sikh motorcyclists as a "devastating precedent against minorities."

The Ontario Court Judge James Blacklock ruled today that while the law prohibiting anyone riding a motorcycle without a helmet does violate his right to freedom of religion, it's justifiable in terms of the benefit that society gains in possible reduced health costs and the possible loss of people's loved ones.

"Given the nature of Mr. Baljinder 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," Judge Blacklock ruled.

Mr. Badesha told reporters he was not particularly disappointed and that he and about 25 supporters who showed up for the decision will lobby politicians to change the law.

Judge Blacklock ruled: "Helmets appear to me more likely than not to substantially reduce the risk of head injuries and death to motorcycle riders.

"It is certainly clear that in permitting Mr. Badesha and all Sikh adherents who hold his religious views to ride motorcycles without a helmet would not achieve the same level of safety for them.

"The same level of protection against emotional trauma and economic turmoil would certainly not be available to their dependents and loved ones.

"The same level of safety would not be achieved for other users of the road who happen to be around them."

The court was told earlier that Mr. Badesha raced a motorcycle around an Ontario speedway to test whether turbans unravel at high speeds.

The bizarre image of Mr. Badesha's experiment last year -- conducted under the auspices of the Ontario Human Rights Commission -- was evoked during his constitutional challenge to a law that forces motorcycle riders to wear a helmet.

Judge Blacklock was told that, in order to disprove a Crown theory that turbans unravel at high speed and cause accidents, Mr. Badesha drove around Cayuga Speedway at 110 kilometres an hour.

His turban held fast.

Mr. Badesha and the human rights commission maintain the helmet law discriminates against Sikhs because their religion obliges them to cover their long hair with nothing more than a turban.

"Observant Sikhs are put in the impossible position of choosing between ordinary, everyday activities and observing their faith," said lawyer Scott Hutchison, who is representing the OHRC. "That is religious discrimination."

Mel Sokosky, a lawyer for Mr. Badesha, said his client is far too religious to consider compromising his beliefs. "Mr. Badesha's desire is not a trivial pursuit," he said. "This is not a game he is playing. He isn't here to waste the court's time. This is a matter of primary importance to Mr. Badesha."

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