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Supreme Court of Canada ruled, sikh students can bear kirpan (dagger) to schools

Montreal, March 03 2006
Subash Sarn

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that barring Montrealer Gurbaj Singh Multani from wearing his dagger-like kirpan to school violates the nation's Charter of Rights. It cannot be considered a reasonable restriction on his right to freedom of religion.

Justice Louise Charron wrote:

  • A total prohibition against wearing a kirpan to school undermines the value of this religious symbol and sends students the message that some religious practices do not merit the same protection as others
  • On the other hand, accommodating Gurbaj Singh and allowing him to wear his kirpan under certain conditions demonstrates the importance that our society attaches to protecting freedom of religion and to showing respect for its minorities.
  • The deleterious effects of a total prohibition thus outweigh its salutary effects.

The Marguerite Bourgeoys school board and the family failed to an accommodate each other. The school board on the grounds it could pose a danger to other students.

  • The Quebec Superior Court ruled the restriction was a violation of his rights to religious freedom and that Multani could wear the kirpan provided he adhere to several conditions.
  • The Quebec Court of Appeal agreed that barring the kirpan contravened Charter rights to freedom of religion, but ruled it was a reasonable restriction.

The court handed down its unanimous ruling-Whether the school's ban was a reasonable restriction on Multani's freedom of religion and whether it constituted a minimal impairment of that freedom proved to be the turning point

Justice Louise Charron wrote for the majority: To determine whether someone's right to freedom of religion has been violated, it is important for that person to show that a particular belief or practice is required by their religion and that belief must be genuinely held. It is not necessary for everyone to practise the religion in the same way for that belief to be accepted by the court.

The court said:

  • The prohibition against wearing his kirpan to school has therefore deprived him of his right to attend a public school. Forced to choose between leaving his kirpan at home and leaving the public school system, Gurbaj Singh decided to follow his religious conviction and is now attending a private school.
  • Not only is this assertion contradicted by the evidence regarding the symbolic nature of the kirpan, it is also disrespectful to believers in the Sikh religion and does not take into account Canadian values based on multiculturalism
  • The court also reject the school board's argument that the kirpan was a symbol of violence and could poison the atmosphere in schools.

Palbinder Shergill, lawyer for the World Sikh Organization said:

  • Requiring that kirpans be in sheaths or sewn onto garments should not pose a problem
  • Kirpan is one of five symbols of Sikhs' faith. Under no circumstances can a kirpan be used in a violent manner, the religion states.




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