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Sikh News School ban on Sikh daggers not justified:SCC

Discussion in 'Breaking News' started by Archived_Member16, Mar 2, 2006.

  1. Archived_Member16

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    Jan 7, 2005
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    School ban on Sikh daggers not justified: SCC

    CTV.ca News Staff - March 2. 2006

    Canada's top court ruled Thursday that a Montreal school went too far when it barred a Sikh boy from wearing his ceremonial dagger to school.

    In a unanimous 8-0 judgment, the Supreme Court of Canada overturned a decision that banned teenager Gurbaj Singh Multani from wearing the dagger, known as a kirpan, to class.
    The court said a total ban infringes guarantees of religious freedom and doesn't tally with the Charter of Rights.

    However, the court did leave room for some restrictions to be imposed on the carrying of kirpans in the name of public safety.

    The final decision in the long-running case -- which pits religious freedom against school safety -- is likely to resonate across the country and could give some direction to provincial governments on how far they must go to accommodate religious beliefs.

    Reporting from outside the court in Ottawa, CTV's Rosemary Thompson described the ruling as "very exciting" for the Multani family.

    "They (the court) said this is a fundamental religious symbol to this boy and for that reason, it would be an infringment of his religious rights if there were to be a complete ban on the kirpan," Thompson told CTV Newsnet.

    The dispute began in 2001, when Multani wore his kirpan to Ste-Catherine-Laboure school in LaSalle, Que.

    The school's principal ordered Multani, who was 12 at the time, to remove the kirpan, but the young boy decided to leave school rather than remove the 10-centimetre dagger.
    Orthodox Sikhs, who make up about 10 per cent of the estimated 250,000 Sikhs in Canada, are required by their religion to wear the kirpan at all times.

    The Multani family took the case to court, and in May 2002, the Quebec Superior Court ruled the boy could wear his kirpan to school but only if it was wrapped in a cloth and hidden inside a wooden case underneath clothing.

    Quebec's government at the time, the Parti Québécois, appealed the decision.

    But in 2004, the Quebec Court of Appeal struck down the decision completely, instead ruling that community safety was more important.

    In the court's view, the kirpan violated a student conduct code that prohibited the carrying of "weapons and dangerous objects."

    At a Supreme Court hearing in April 2005, Multani family lawyer Julius Grey noted that schools in other Canadian provinces have permitted the wearing of kirpans and there had never been a case where one has been used to stab a student.
    That adds up to "overwhelming empirical evidence that the kirpan is not a dangerous weapon," said Grey.
    However, Francois Aquin, lawyer for the Montreal school board, retorted that there have never been any school assaults with kitchen knives either. "That doesn't mean we will allow students to carry kitchen knives in school," she told the hearing.

    Other provinces, including schools in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario, have solved the issue with a compromise.

    They permit the wearing of kirpans with certain restrictions -- such as a limit on size or a requirement that they be worn hidden under clothing.
    Sikh MPs are allowed to wear kirpans in the House of Commons, but trial judges in some provinces have banned them from courtrooms.
    Most airlines once routinely allowed passengers to wear kirpans with blades no longer than 10 centimetres.
    However, after the 9/11 terror attacks on the U.S., Transport Canada imposed a total ban on all "knives or knife-like objects," which included religious ones.

    Thursday's Supreme Court of Canada ruling focused specifically on wearing kirpans in schools.
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