Student's kirpan survives latest court challenge

In more than 100 years, it has never been used as a weapon in school

Pourquoi est-il interdit en cour?

Surprisingly, there were no calls for the banning of hairpins from Quebec schools in the immediate aftermath of a verdict handed down in Montreal this week.
Judge Gilles Ouellet of the youth division of the Court of Quebec found a 13-year-old Sikh boy guilty of having threatened two classmates by pointing the metal hairpin he wore to keep his long hair in place beneath his turban.
Uncut hair is a symbol of the Sikh religion, but the hairpin, called a salai and typically about 10 centimetres in length, apparently has no religious significance.
And so the hairpin has been proven to be a more dangerous object in the hands of a schoolchild than the kirpan, the dagger-like symbol of the Sikh religion, of which so much has been made in this province in recent years.
The judge also found the boy not guilty of using his kirpan as a weapon in the dispute with his classmates, which took place on a street near their school.
The judge believed the accused's "clear and coherent" testimony that he had not taken out the kirpan wrapped in cloth held in place by elastic bands that he wore beneath his clothing, against the "vagueness and contradictions" in the victims' version of events.
This left intact the clean criminal record of the kirpan in schools: In the more than 100 years that Sikhs have been in Canada, a kirpan has never been used as a weapon in a school (or in this case, near one).
This was not the outcome anticipated by critics of a 2006 Supreme Court decision striking down an absolute ban on the wearing of the kirpan in schools when the alleged assault was reported last September.
To them, the simple allegation of a single assault that would have been the first in a Canadian school in more than a century was proof that the highest court in the land had erred. Never mind that the assault case hadn't even been heard in court yet, let alone decided.
In fact, what critics of the Supreme Court's decision overlook is that it approved and suggested severe restrictions on the wearing of the kirpan in school that would have made it difficult to use impulsively as a weapon.
They include limiting the length of the kirpan and requiring that it be sheathed and then wrapped in cloth and worn out of sight beneath the clothing.
Lawyer Julius Grey, who pleaded the kirpan case before the Supreme Court on behalf of another Sikh boy and who defended the accused in the assault case decided this week, said yesterday the restrictions make the kirpan "less dangerous than a geometry compass."
Indeed, six months before the alleged kirpan assault occurred, more than 100 pupils at a Montreal high school were jabbed by schoolmates with compasses as well as tacks over a three-day period, apparently as a prank vide recorded for posting on YouTube.
Yet in the year since that incident was reported, there have been no public calls from opponents of kirpans in school for the banning of compasses and tacks as well.
Apparently, objects readily available in schools that have been used as weapons represent less of a danger than a symbol of a minority religion allowed only under severe restrictions to prevent its possible use as a weapon.
In the assault case, the investigating police officer testified that she thought the dispute should have been resolved through mediation between the parties.
But somebody insisted on pressing charges. Grey said yesterday he thinks it was either the victims' parents or authorities at the school attended by all the children involved, "because it involved the kirpan, perhaps."
On the latter point, Judge Ouellet apparently agrees. "If the three boys had had the same nationality and beliefs," he said in delivering his verdict, "this case wouldn't have come before the court."

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