Sikhs with kirpans denied entry to Quebec assembly

By Gurmukh Singh, IANS
Thursday, January 20, 2011

TORONTO - The kirpan issue was to the fore once again in Canada Wednesday when four Sikhs were barred from entering the Quebec provincial assembly for carrying a “potential weapon”.

The Bloc Quebecois political party further stoked the issue by seeking outright ban on the kirpan even in the Canadian parliament where two kirpan-wearing Sikh MPs sit. The incident comes six years after the Canadian supreme court ruled that Sikhs can wear the dagger enjoined by their religion in public places.

The four Sikhs had gone to appear before a assembly committee which is debating a bill to deal with accommodation of religious minorities with visible symbols such hijab and kirpan. But security staff stopped them from carrying a “potential weapon” inside, according to reports.

Equating the kirpan with pen knives and letter openers, assembly security head Pierre Duchesne was quoted as saying by the Globe and Mail, “The kirpan is no different than a knife. It’s the same thing, it’s the same kind of pointed object.”

However Balpreet Singh, lawyer for the four Sikhs, said, “It’s a bit ironic. We were here to speak on the issue of accommodation and we weren’t accommodated.

“An accommodation should be able to be made. An accommodation exists at the Parliament of Canada. An accommodation exists at the Supreme Court of Canada and legislatures across Canada. I don’t think it should be a problem here in Quebec.”

The French-speaking province’s main party Bloc Quebecois further stoked the issue Wednesday by seeking outright ban on the kirpan even in the Canadian parliament.

Justifying the decision of the Quebec assembly security staff to deny kirpan-wearing Sikhs entry into the premises, Bloc Quebecois leader Claude DeBellefeuille suggested that the Canadian parliament should now follow suit and ban the entry of Sikhs with the dagger.

“It’s a decision that is well founded and maybe it’s time for Parliament to adopt similar rules,” the French-speaking Canadian leader said.

Reacting angrily to the ban, Sikh MP Navdeep Bain, who wear the kirpan, said,”I’m upset and disappointed that this is an issue at all. The kirpan is not a weapon, its an article of faith. I wear my kirpan in the House of Commons.On Monday I wore it in the Newfoundland (a province) legislature and I’ve worn it in the halls of the US Congress. It has never been a problem.

“I am especially concerned with the Bloc’s (provincial party) incendiary remarks which seem designed to continue to sow the seeds of confusion and mistrust between Canadians. Canada is about acceptance and mutual respect, not fear-mongering.”

Former federal health minister and Sikh MP Ujjal Dosanjh added, “With respect to the issue of four traditional Sikhs representing the World Sikh Organization (WSO) being denied entry to the Quebec National Assembly with kirpans, I believe a reasonable accommodation must be made in the case of a traditional kirpan of a specified size as long as it is not concealed.

“In the name of increasing diversity and pluralism, that is today’s Canada, I would strongly urge the Speaker of the Quebec National Assembly to reconsider this matter, look at the precedents established across the country and provide reasonable guidelines and specifications for the carrying of the traditional kirpan by traditional Sikhs in the Quebec National Assembly.”

(Gurmukh Singh can be contacted at

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