Opinion

Turbans vs. Motorcycle Helmets. Religious Freedom vs Safety?

Should safety trump religious freedom?
That sensitive topic may need to be visited by our Alberta provincial government if it prepares to debate making turban-wearing Sikhs exempt from current motorcycle helmet laws. They will likely need to discuss exemptions for motorcycle riders and also side-car occupants. There are jurisdictions that have these exemptions. Sikhs are allowed to ride without a helmet in British Columbia and Manitoba.
Ontario, after serious study, decided not to allow turban-wearing Sikhs to ride a motorcycle without wearing a helmet, a decision the Canadian Sikh Association called “deeply” disappointing.
Premier Kathleen Wynne of Ontario had also struggled with striking the right balance between public safety and religious accommodation. A bill was brought to the Ontario legislature years ago requesting an exemption. After much thought and consultations it was not supported.
“After careful deliberation, we have determined that we will not grant this type of exemption as it would pose a road safety risk,” she wrote in a letter to the Canadian Sikh Association. “The association has been a strong advocate for an exemption and presented “compelling arguments,” Wynne wrote. “However, the Ontario government has carefully monitored, and considered, the soundness of accommodating your position, drawing on relevant academic research, key legal decisions, and consultations with caucus and the community.”
“Ultimately, the safety of Ontarians is my utmost priority, and I cannot justify setting that concern aside on this issue.” The same would be said in Alberta.
The mandatory helmet law is based on extensive research that shows the high risk of injury and death for motorcyclists who ride without a helmet. Mortality rates have gone down 30 per cent and head injury rates down 75 per cent in jurisdictions with such laws.
Courts have also found that Ontario’s law doesn’t infringe on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms or the Ontario Human Rights Code, so Alberta would not have to worry, then, if a court challenge was to be launched.
So should safety trump religious freedom? That is a tough one, but so is the rights of individuals as a whole. There is a fine line between the wishes of the few versus the needs of the community.
The turban issue is also complicated by it’s history and it’s geographical relevance. If the turban can be altered to identify nobility, carry small weapons and for various castes and events, why could it not be altered for safety measures.
I found this information on the internet’s wikipedia: All Sikh Gurus since Guru Nanak have worn turbans. However, covering one’s hair with a turban was made an official policy by Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Guru of the Sikhs. The main reasons to wear turban are to take care of the hair, promote equality, and preserve the Sikh identity. Sikh women may wear a turban if they wish.
Sikhs do not cut their hair, as a religious observance. The turban protects the hair and keeps it clean. As Sikhs only form 2% of India’s population, their turbans help identify them, also. When he institutionalized the turban as a part of the Sikh identity, Guru Gobind Singh said, “My Sikh will be recognized among millions.”
If a turban was institutionalized as a personal hygiene measure and as an identification and recognition factor then it should allowed to be covered temporarily for safety factors, but I am not an expert, but just as a questioner.
How our current provincial government deals with this issue could set off some debate beyond the rights of religious rights. How about human rights? Should I be ordered to wear a helmet because I am not of a certain religion?
There will be discussion about allowing the exemption on smaller highways and urban streets, but a head injury at 60 km/h is still severe. An exemption to an exemption, would make less sense. If they wear a helmet on Hwy 2 then they can wear a helmet on residential streets.
If the facts bear out that helmets do not prevent or lessen head injuries and mortality rates then do away with mandatory helmet laws. But if the facts show they do prevent or lessen head injuries and mortality rates then no exemptions.
That is just my thoughts.



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