Toronto Star: Sikhs’ ceremonial daggers now allowed in Toronto courthouses

“The risk of the kirpan being used as a weapon has been virtually eliminated,” Balpreet Singh, legal counsel for the World Sikh Organization of Canada, told the Star.

Toronto has become the first city in Canada to develop a formal policy allowing Sikhs to bring their ceremonial daggers into its courthouses.

The kirpan, which is a stylized representation of a sword, will be allowed in public areas of Toronto courthouses subject to certain conditions.

For instance, the court officer must be informed the person is a Khalsa Sikh, which is an initiated Sikh, and that they are carrying a kirpan.

The kirpan, which has an exaggerated curve at the end, must also pass the metal detector. The kirpan has a tip and can have a sharp end much like a pen or pencil.

The total length of the kirpan, including sheath, may not exceed 7.5 inches with a blade of not more than 4 inches. In addition, the kirpan must be worn under clothing and not be easily accessible.

The kirpan is often described as a dagger, which it resembles, but Sikhs say that description is misleading. It is an important article of faith, representing spiritual wisdom and the duty to stand against injustice.

“The risk of the kirpan being used as a weapon has been virtually eliminated,” Balpreet Singh, legal counsel for the World Sikh Organization of Canada, told the Star.

The religious ideology of the Sikhs spells out that the kirpan should not be used as a weapon, and it is retained in a fabric belt worn under clothing, Singh said.

The World Sikh Organization of Canada worked on developing the policy with the Ontario Human Rights Commission, Toronto Police, the Toronto Police Services Board and the Ministry of the Attorney General.

The policy was developed as a settlement of two separate human rights cases.

The first one involved a Sikh who was to attend a mandatory class trip to the victim/witness assistance program at the Old City Hall courthouse. That student was denied entry because she would not remove her kirpan.

The second instance involved a Sikh man who was summoned for jury duty at the University Ave. courthouse and was allowed to enter with his kirpan in the morning, but denied re-entry after the lunch break.

The Attorney General’s office will work with Toronto police to identify the best way to have security screenings at each Toronto courthouse.

“This is a step in the right direction, combining respect for a person’s religious observances with accommodation principles and Code obligations,” chief commissioner Barbara Hall said in a news release.

Toronto police Deputy Chief Jeff McGuire said in statement that the procedure “recognizes the needs and rights of the Sikh community and the obligation to provide a safe, secure and accessible courthouse environment.”

WSO legal counsel Balpreet Singh said the policy was developed for Toronto courthouses, but Singh said he hopes to work with other police services in Canada to bring about a similar policy.

Local police services are responsible for court security in Ontario.

“This is a good first step to ensure the kirpan is accommodated in other courtrooms as well,” Singh told the Star. “We’re going to have to move forward to make sure this accommodation policy can be introduced in courtrooms York Region and Peel Region.”

Although there are courthouses in other cities that allow the kirpan, Toronto is the first city to have a formal policy with respect to the kirpan.

While the Supreme Court of Canada allows kirpans, there’s no formal policy.

Toronto police spokesman Mark Pugash said police has a long history of working with the Human Rights Commission.

“This is the latest result of our work,” Pugash said. “It’s an accommodation that respects the traditions of diverse communities, while at the same time ensures public safety in courthouses is protected.”

This policy has been communicated to all court offices in Toronto and there is ongoing training, Pugash added.

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