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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

We don’t always have to abandon our norms to accommodate members of certain religions

The debate over Sikhs wearing kirpans into public buildings like legislatures has again arisen, this time prompted by a decision of security officials to deny four kirpan-wearing Sikhs entry to the Quebec National Assembly. The Bloc Québécois, ever the opportunists, have supported that decision and said last week it will ask Parliament to consider doing the same for MPs and visitors alike.

I have zero sympathy for the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision to allow Sikh schoolchildren bearing ceremonial daggers onto school property, while other children are not allowed to have penknives on their person. When last I visited the House of Commons, my wife had to hand over her tiny two-inch Swiss Army Knife before she was allowed to be part of a public tour of Houses of Parliament. Yet does not, at least, one member of parliament wear a kirpan?

Where’s the equity here? Either knives are a danger or they aren’t. Our law should not extend privileges to members of a religious group and deny it to other ordinary individuals.

Finding common ground with immigrants and minorities—so called “reasonable accommodation”—is all very well and good, but should such accommodation elevate the rights of certain religious groups above the individual rights of everyone else? I don’t think it should.

Having said that, I simply cannot believe the stupidity of the decision to deny the Sikhs entry to the National Assembly building. The four Sikhs, after all,  had been invited to appear before a legislative committee debating a bill that deals with the reasonable accommodation of religious minorities. Couldn’t arrangements have been made to provide an escort while the men were on the premises?

Had an escort been offered and accepted, our norms would have been preserved and the four Sikhs would have had their say.

 

© 2011 Russell G. Campbell
All rights reserved.

7 comments — This is a moderated blog and comments will appear when approved. Please don’t resubmit if your comment doesn’t appear immediately, and please do not post material that is obscene, harassing, defamatory, or otherwise objectionable.

  1. For the most part I agree with you
    where I cannot agree is the part where our Government should take responsibility for accommodating the four Sikhs by providing an escort
    the escort would be paid for by taxpayer dollars
    A gentleman I don't recall his name but he was on one of the political opinion programs either CBC or CTV
    he mentioned that the Kirpan was banned in India from their parliament for security reasons he agreed with the decision to ban the Kirpan from our Canadian parliament buildings for security reasons
    Why are Canadians so afraid of having our laws obeyed by everyone? any thing less is discrimination.
    fh

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  2. Reasonable accomodation is a 2 way street. What bothers me is that it seems one group has to bend to the will of another.

    In terms of the Kirpan, I would have no problem with "reasonable accomodation" of allowing Sikhs to wear it, if they made the "reasonable accomodation" to ensure that they work "symbolic" kirpans only.

    There is no requirement that a kirpan has to be a certain size or functional as a weapon. A Sikh could fulfill his baptised obligation by wearing a small kirpan pendant around their neck (size of a small crucifix for example).

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  3. I am willing to accommodate the Sikhs because of their service in WWII. 2.5 million Sikhs served voluntarily. 83,005 were killed and 109,045 were wounded.

    Of course in Quebec nobody knows WWII history and of course they are against anyone who may have helped the British empire if they thought about it.

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  4. "Had an escort been offered and accepted, our norms would have been preserved and the four Sikhs would have had their say."

    How do you figure? Either everyone is allowed to bring weapons to court, or no one is allowed to bring weapons to court. Your post argues against itself (ie you're still proposing special rules for Sikhs).

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  5. I grew up in an area of B.C. with a large Sikh and Punjabi population. I've been in many schoolyard fights with these guys. Never once did I see one of these guys draw his kirpan during a fight. No matter how bad it got.

    Personally, I believe what passes the litmus test for reasonable accommodation should be criteria such as history and organization. Sikhism is an organized, established religion and the only one that requires its members to carry a Kirpan. I don't believe the slippery slope argument passes this test because no other organized religion has such a requirement, thus we would not have a problem.

    My understanding of the Kirpan is that it is a weapon not anything less. My Sikh friends explained to me that the kirpan is part of the uniform of a baptized Sikh since every Sikh is a "saint-soldier". The Kirpan is also a symbol of the fight against evil. Also, every Sikh is obligated to use the Kirpan for "nonviolence". The Sikh concept of nonviolence is to actively prevent violence from being done to others. So, if a Sikh sees someones attacking an innocent person with a weapon, he is obligates to fight the attacker and use the Kirpan if necessary. I think such values should be adopted by our broader society. Canadians have a lot to learn from these people rather than marginalizing and alienating them.

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  6. the program was Power and Politics with Evan Soloman guest included Michael Coran and Tarek Fatah aired Jan 20, 2011
    thanks

    fh

    ReplyDelete
  7. If the kirpan is symbolic, make them of soft rubber. Problem solved.

    ReplyDelete

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