Kirpan ban against Canadian values

As Canadians we pride ourselves on our country’s multiculturalism and diversity. It is often used as one of the focal points of Canadian identity in contrast to the American “melting pot.” This sentiment is even entrenched in Section 27 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is the source of some of the most fundamental laws of the land.

So it is very seldom that we see instances where there is such emotionally charged debate over an issue so close to the heart of a minority religious group. But once again a flashpoint has been reached in the debate over banning the kirpan, the ceremonial Sikh dagger, in public places.

In the midst of Quebec’s “reasonable accommodation” debate over where to draw the line on minority rights, security guards at the Quebec National Assembly denied entry to four Sikhs because some of them were carrying kirpans. The irony is that the event they were attempting to participate in was a committee hearing on religious accommodation.

This proposed ban hits close to home with Liberal MP of Mississauga-Brampton South, Navdeep Bains, who is a Sikh himself. He has called this campaign nothing but fear-mongering. I am inclined to agree. Meanwhile, the Bloc
Quebecois has tried to make this into a safety issue. But if this was a safety issue then it would have been dealt with much earlier. Bains himself has been wearing the kirpan in the House of Commons since 2004 without any indication of concern. He has also worn it at the United States Congress and the Supreme Court of Canada. In addition, there are at least two other practicing Sikhs in the Commons who likely carry the kirpan as well.

The kirpan is an article of faith for the Sikh religion. In modern times it has no meaning as a weapon. It is purely ceremonial and functions as a symbol of ahimsa or non-violence and the active prevention of violence. It also symbolizes the ability of truth to cut through falsehoods. Furthermore, most Sikhs wear their kirpan under their clothes and it is usually wrapped in a way that makes it less accessible. Lastly, it is also usually blunted, which makes it even less of a threat.

It is important to note that many of these concerns have already been addressed by the Supreme Court of Canada. In 2006, a 12-year-old Sikh boy dropped his kirpan at his school in Quebec. This prompted some courts including the Quebec Court of Appeal to ban it as a weapon. Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that it was not within reasonable limits to deny Sikhs their freedom of religion under the Charter in carrying the kirpan and that doing so would also contradict multiculturalism mentioned earlier.

But these facts did not stop the Bloc from capitalizing on this politically by releasing a statement lauding the issue and proposing that federal Parliament buildings should consider a ban on the kirpan. In Quebec at least the Bloc has succeeded in swaying public opinion in their favour. Commentary coming from the province has been almost unanimous in favour of the ban.

The same could not be said for the rest of Canada which had the exact opposite opinion. And so this debate has had the consequence of reopening the French-English divide. Prominent Quebecers such as Mario Dumont, who once led the Action Démocratique du Québec, have accused English Canada of “Quebec bashing” and unfairly painting Quebecers as “bigots,” “close minded” and “backwards thinking.”

That may be true or false. But it does not at all justify the actions of the Bloc Quebecois. This is a party that does not seem like they are actually interested in “reasonable accommodation.” The Bloc is playing politics and trying to shore up support in advance of an election at the expense of cherished Canadian values.

As Canadians, English speaking or not, we should stand by our ethnic and religious plurality and all the different groups that represent it.