(The Ottawa Citizen, Saturday, March 29, 1997)

While discussion continues about safety costs to the B.C. taxpayer for allowing an exemption for Sikhs from the motorcycle helmet law, few pundits are raging from any solid ground of statistical or scientific evidence.

 

There is a multitude of varying reports on the safety of the turban, under a variety of circumstances, and absolutely no statistics regarding the actual costs of caring for accidents occurring to Sikhs (specifically) who are exempted.

Statistics about injuries to non-helmeted motorcyclists are well accepted around the world – we all know head protection is important to safety.  But where do any of these figures include facts of accidents that have actually occurred to Sikhs who wear turbans?  Insurance schemes ensure that the liability for risks inherent to activities like riding a motorcycle are borne by all.  The basic foundation of insurance coverage is to average out the universal care costs for those individuals who, varying from the averages make personal choices that may affect potential outcomes.

People who choose to smoke, who choose to take unusual risks, and who make other liability-fraught personal lifestyle choices, cannot be required to change their choices by any legislation.  The cost of the choice of a minority population has a minute bearing, in accordance with the demographics, on the economic costs of universal health care as a whole.

In the case of Sikhism, the minimal demographics in Canada (one percent of the population), the number of Sikhs who choose to follow the mandates of their faith (by never removing their turbans), and the number who will actually e riding motorcycles, will make any costs expected or projected, absolutely negligible, as a result of granting an exemption for Sikhs.

Besides, without methodological research or scientific data specifically relating to turbaned Sikhs on motorcycles, no appropriate forecasts of costs could reasonably or practically be made.  Clearly, discussions about the safety of helmets vs. turbans, and the associated imagined costs, entirely misses the point of the issue at hand.

As a Canadian citizen, I have a right to practice the religion I choose and be respected by both the laws and the people of this country, regardless how ‘foreign’ my religion may seem to others.

To snarl at Sikhs who are working hard to ensure the laws of this country reflect the existing acceptance of diversity by the majority of the populous, is barking up the wrong tree.  Better to look to legislation, existing and proposed, that will continue to restrict your own fundamental freedoms – a ‘big brother’ influence which Sikhs are challenging on your behalf.

It would certainly not cost Canadians anything to respect the existing religious and cultural diversity in this country.  Respect for your neighbour’s beliefs and practices is not special treatment but a basic and fundamental guarantee – just one of the many guarantees that make Canada the greatest country in the world in which to live.