Posted on February 10, 2011

Quebec National Assembly Supports Ban of Sikhs Wearing Kirpans

Kevin Dougherty, The Gazette (Montreal), February 10, 2011

The Quebec National Assembly unanimously, by a vote of 113 to zero, adopted a motion Wednesday supporting the decision to bar four Sikhs who came to the assembly to testify on Bill 94, banning Islamic face coverings.

The Sikhs refused to remove their kirpans, small ceremonial daggers worn 24 hours daily. Sikhs who remove their kirpans must seek forgiveness.

In a 2006 decision, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the kirpan, which Sikhs carry wrapped in fabric under their clothing, is not a weapon but a religious symbol, like a crucifix.

Louise Beaudoin, the Parti Québécois MNA for Montreal’s Rosemont riding, presented the motion, telling reporters she did so because Immigration Minister Kathleen Weil remained neutral on the kirpan ban.

Beaudoin said she wanted to know where Weil stands on the issue of security versus religious freedom.

And she said the Sikhs should have been ready to make an accommodation by checking their kirpans with assembly security.

“Frankly, they could have made an effort to respect our institutions and our values,” she told reporters.

And she chided the government for failing to follow a recommendation of the Bouchard-Taylor commission on accommodating religious differences, which called for a white paper on secularism.

Beaudoin noted that while Weil says the government is neutral, there are to legal texts in the province affirming that neutrality.

“We want to amend the charter of rights and liberties,” Beaudoin said.

At present, Quebec’s human rights charter states that all rights are equal, calling for accommodation when conflicts arise to ensure all rights are respected.

Beaudoin read from a statement by the World Sikh Organization, whose members were excluded on Jan. 18.

It stated: “This debate is no longer about the niqab or the kirpan, it’s about the inclusion of minorities in Quebec and the place of tolerance and multiculturalism.”

Beaudoin said multiculturalism is a Canadian value, not a Quebec value

She said multiculturalism was promoted in the 1970s by the late Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau, in the hope the “French-Canadian minority” would be marginalized among all other minorities in Canada.

She called multiculturalism “divisive,” recalling that no Quebec government has signed the 1982 constitution, enshrining multiculturalism as a Canadian value.

Immigration Minister Weil said assembly constables were acting within their jurisdiction in asking the Sikhs to check their kirpans.

“We are all agreed,” the minister said. “We support the decision that was taken in January.”

While the PQ wants the government to adopt a law banning all ostentatious religious signs, ending the “case-by-case” process of granting “reasonable accommodations” for religious differences, Weil said her Bill 94, dealing solely with Islamic face coverings, such as the niqab or burka, is “common sense.”

And she noted polls, when Bill 94 was presented, showing 95-per-cent support in Quebec and 80-per-cent support in the rest of Canada for her position.

Weil called Bill 94 “a magnificent project for integration.”

Carole Poirier, the PQ MNA for Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, said banning the kirpan was justified by the May 8, 1984, shooting spree, when Cpl. Denis Lortie, armed with two machine guns, burst into the assembly building, killing three people and wounding 13 others.

“Are we going to allow the Supreme Court of Canada to dictate to us?” Poirier asked.