Canadian law requiring wearing of motorcycle helmets irks Sikhs

(Photo: REUTERS / Andy Clark)A member of the Sikh Motorcycle Club rides through the streets while taking part in the annual Vaisakhi Parade in Vancouver, Brit.ish Columbia April 13, 2013. The Vancouver Vaisakhi Parade marks the birth of the Sikh religion and is the oldest in North America, according to local media.

A recent court ruling in Ontario, Canada compelling Sikhs to wear motorcycle helmets like all other citizens has riled the followers of the religion.

Sikh men are required to wear a turban to cover their heads and their leaders have said that wearing a motorcycle helmet even over the turban is "an affront to the religion."

The Sikhs had hoped to get exemption from this ruling but a court denied this demand, World Religion News reported.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said that safety of Ontarians is her priority.

"The Ontario government recognizes the importance of preserving the fundamental right of religious expression.

"This right is a key pillar of our democracy and of our collective identity and must be balanced with public safety."

She said research shows that motorcycle accidents are high with riders not wearing helmets.

A mandatory motorcycle helmet requirement resulted in mortality rates plunging by 30 percent, she noted.

The Toronto Sun reported that the Canadian Sikh Association is "deeply disappointed" over the court ruling.

Association secretary Manohar Singh Bal said, "To categorize it that once turban (wearing) Sikhs will start riding a motorcycle they will start dying just doesn't make any sense. And they have not given any evidence, rational or logic behind it."

Some areas in Canada have made an exception for the Sikh community. The provinces of Manitoba and British Columbia have passed laws that allow Sikhs to ride without using motorcycle helmets.

In 1998, India made wearing helmets mandatory for all riders and passengers on motorcycles. But objections from the Sikh community led to a change in the law.

The change was not well accepted by police enforcers.

"Helmets should be compulsory for everyone. Accidents do not happen on the basis of religion," Anil Shukla, joint commissioner of Delhi traffic police said, The Wall Street Journal reported.

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