Two representatives of the World Sikh Organization of Canada were turned away by Quebec National Assembly security Tuesday because they insisted on wearing ceremonial kirpans.Photograph by : Lars Hagberg, The Ottawa CitizenYou have to wonder what the powers that be in Quebec City were thinking when they invited a delegation of Sikhs to make a presentation to a National Assembly committee this week, only to have them turned away at the door because the invitees declined to surrender their kirpans, the ceremonial daggers devout Sikhs are obliged by their faith to wear on their persons at all times.
If they thought that the Sikhs would leave their kirpans at home or surrender them at the Assembly building door they were simply being ignorant, which is shameful enough in itself. If they were aware that there would be a problem with the kirpans and figured to exploit the incident to send a message, then it was doubly shameful. Particularly since the committee the Sikh delegation was invited to address was holding public hearings on the reasonable accommodation of religious diversity in the province.
There is certainly no reasonable justification for banning the wearing of kirpans by Sikhs in public venues, including the National Assembly building or the Parliament buildings in Ottawa, as the Bloc Quebecois subsequently proposed in the wake of the Quebec incident. Although it is a knife, the kirpan is not held as a weapon by its wearers but rather as a symbol of their faith, much like a crucifix by Christians or a star of David by Jews. The kirpan has been reasonably accommodated in other provincial legislatures and on Parliament Hill for years without incident.
The Supreme Court of Canada has unanimously ruled that banning the kirpan in schools is a violation of Charter provisions that protect freedom of religious expression. Also, there is no record of any incident in this country of anyone being injured by a kirpanwielding assailant. If the Assembly security service is intent on keeping the premises a weapons-free zone to the extent of banning kirpans, it should logically also seize all the scissors and letter openers from the building’s offices, as well as the knives and forks from the Assembly restaurant.
The only logical explanation for this week’s incident at the Assembly and the support for the anti-kirpan policy by the Parti Quebecois and the Bloc is that it is an expression of xenophobia and intolerance toward religious minorities. The sovereignist parties perniciously exploit that spirit of intolerance. Witness the jaw-dropping statement by the PQ’s Louise Beaudoin in the aftermath of the kirpan kerfuffle : "Multiculturalism may be a Canadian value. But it is not a Quebec one." Or it could be that they want to provoke a federal ruling against the Assembly kirpan ban that would raise anti-Canadian hackles in Quebec. If so, that would be even more shameful.