Globe and Mail: Sikh community speaks out against Quebec kirpan ban

The World Sikh Organization has expressed disappointment over a unanimous vote in the National Assembly to bar the kirpan from the legislative buildings.


QUEBEC— The Canadian Press

Published Wednesday, Feb. 09, 2011 5:56PM EST

Last updated Wednesday, Feb. 09, 2011 7:46PM EST

The World Sikh Organization has expressed disappointment over a unanimous vote in the National Assembly to bar the kirpan from the legislative buildings.

The Parti Québécois tabled a motion supporting a decision last month by security officials to block members of the Sikh community from entering the National Assembly after they refused to remove their kirpans.

Members of the World Sikh Organization of Canada had been invited to appear before a committee debating a bill on reasonable accommodation of religious minorities that dealt with restrictions on the wearing of the niqab when obtaining some government services.

“We’re disappointed that the wearing of the kirpan, which is a human rights issue, has been politicized,” Balpreet Singh, WSO legal counsel, said in a press release on Wednesday. “Today’s vote represents a turn away from the values of tolerance and multiculturalism. We had expressed a desire to sit down with security at the National Assembly and have a rational discussion about the kirpan, but it seems this debate is no longer about the niqab or the kirpan, it’s about the inclusion of minorities in Quebec.”

The 113 MNAs present in the National Assembly, including Premier Jean Charest, voted for the ban, but not all for the same reasons.

While the PQ said it was acting to underscore Quebec’s neutrality in dealing with religious groups, the Liberals argued that the ban is needed for security reasons.

PQ member Louise Beaudoin, who tabled the motion, said Canadian multiculturalism isn’t Quebec value, and that at all times the state had a responsibility to remain neutral in the face of growing demands from groups wanting to defend the right to religious freedoms.

She said two fundamental rights were clashing, the right to religious freedom and the right to security. “You have choose one of these rights, and in a secular society, you chose to argue in favour of limiting religious rights,” Ms. Beaudoin said.

Ms. Beaudoin justified her position by saying that the kirpan was barred from United Nations buildings, in New York and Geneva, and that the same rule should apply to the National Assembly.

Immigration Minister Kathleen Weil avoided the political debate over religious freedoms, saying that while the motion wasn’t really necessary, she defended her government’s decision to support it nonetheless, for “pragmatic” reasons.

“The decision to support it was taken for security reasons,” Ms. Weil said, supporting the notion that the kirpan could be considered a weapon as well as an article of faith.

The Sikh community rejected both the PQ and the Liberal arguments, saying that the kirpan is accommodated across Canada, including in the House of Commons and the Supreme Court of Canada.

“It’s unfortunate that the PQ believes multiculturalism is a value in Canada but not in Quebec. We feel multiculturalism is not just a Canadian value, but a liberal democratic one that allows us all to live together harmoniously,” said Prem Singh Vinning, president of the World Sikh Organization.

© 2011 The Globe and Mail Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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