Legal Victories of 2018 and Challenges Ahead

As WSO’s legal counsel, 2018 has been a year filled with challenges and successes.

This year, as in past years, we helped many Sikhs from across Canada deal with issues at work, school and elsewhere with respect to their articles of faith.

Even in a country like Canada, we continue to face accommodation barriers in places that would surprise most.

For example, we helped:

  • A Sikh who was refused entry to a hospital to visit his wife and newborn baby because he was wearing a kirpan
  • A Sikh student told he can’t wear his kirpan to school
  •  A Sikh contractor told he must shave in order to work on a site
  • A Sikh who had his turban taken away in police custody

While the law is clear that the kirpan must be accommodated in Canada, we still see examples of where Sikhs are told they cannot wear their articles of faith

A surprising example of that was BC Ferries decision earlier this year to ban the kirpan.

The WSO sprung into action and worked to implement a kirpan accommodation policy with BC Ferries after several Sikh passengers were told they could not wear their kirpans while traveling

We also successfully advocated for religious head coverings at World Karate Federation, the WKF has announced that it has approved a new version of its rules which allows all athletes to wear plain black head coverings during competition for religious reasons.  

The WSO had worked with Karate Canada to advocate for the rule change at the international level.   

We continue to advocate at the Supreme Court of Canada, and had a busy year in Ottawa defending the freedom of religion.

In June, we received a decision from the Supreme Court of Canada in the Highwood v. Randy Wall case in which WSO was an intervener.

The Court accepted WSO’s position and clarified that private religious groups can set their own rules and choose whom to worship with, without state interference.

Specific to the Sikh faith, decisions taken by the Punj Pyare will continue to not be subject to a judicial review. 

Also, a motion for reconsideration has been filed with the Supreme Court of Canada with respect to the court’s decision to deny leave for appeal in theSingh, et al. v. Attorney General of Québec, a case where we are challenging Quebec's ban of the kirpan entering the legislature.

One key challenge that we continue to work on is the accommodation of the turban on worksites across Canada

Blanket hard hat rules on worksites often unnecessarily require Sikhs to remove their turbans, even where accommodation is possible such as turbaned truck drivers when delivering loads.

This file will be a key priority for 2019.

Legal advocacy has been WSO’s strength for the past 30 years and we will continue to be at the forefront of defending the rights of Canadian Sikhs in 2019.

But, we can only continue with your financial support.

As we close 2018, consider donating to the WSO and to strengthen Canada's largest national Sikh advocacy organization. 

For those that have donated in the past, and continue to donate, thank you for your continued support and commitment. It is with your donations that we are able to effectively speak for Sikhs across this country, and obtain legal victories that are a source of inspiration for Sikhs around the world.

Balpreet Singh
Legal Counsel, World Sikh Organization of Canada

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