In a landmark decision that has brought jubilation among the Canadian Sikhs, community members would now be allowed to take their 'kirpans' (an article of Sikh faith) into Toronto courthouses.
The development follows a settlement between the Ontario Human Rights Commission and three law enforcement bodies, including Toronto Police Service, Toronto Police Services Board and Ministry of Attorney General that gave the nod to allow 'kirpans' into all public areas of the city's courthouses.
Toronto has become the first Canadian city to formulate such a policy to accommodate Sikh articles of faith.
According to OHRC spokesman Afroze Edwards, police would be revising court security procedures so that devout Sikhs wearing the small ceremonial blades, symbolizing the willingness of the faithful to protect human rights, would be allowed to enter coourthouses.
As per the new policy, a Sikh wishing to enter a courthouse must now tell the court officers they were wearing a 'kirpan'. They must be wearing the religion's other four articles of faith as well. Also, the 'kirpan' should be worn under the clothing and must not be longer than 7.5 inches, with blade length not exceeding 4 inches.
The settlement resulted from two complaints filed by the Sikhs, alleging discrimination because of creed under the Human Rights Code.
In the first case, a Sikh woman who needed to attend a mandatory class trip to the Victim/Witness Assistance Programme at the courthouse in Old City Hall was denied entry by court officers when she refused to remove her 'kirpan'.
The second case involved a Sikh man who was summoned for jury duty at the University Avenue courthouse. The 'kirpan' controversy first came on to the national scene in 2001 when a 12-year-old Montreal student accidentally dropped his 20-cm long 'kirpan' at school, triggering a dispute with the school board over his right to wear it.
In 2006, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld his right in a landmark judgment. "The Toronto Police Service is pleased to have worked cooperatively to arrive at a procedure which recognises the needs and rights of the Sikh community and the obligation to provide a safe, secure and accessible courthouse environment," said acting deputy chief Jeff McGuire.
The Toronto Police Services will also work with the World Sikh Organisation of Canada and the Ontario Human Rights Commission on training its court officers assigned to accommodate 'kirpan' related to a person's creed under the Human Rights Code.
The WSO would work in tandem with the Toronto Police Service and the OHRC to prepare training material for court officers on the 'kirpan' issue and appropriate techniques to screen Sikh visitors to courthouses.
WSO legal counsel Balpreet Singh said, "The Toronto courthouse accommodation policy for the 'kirpan' is comprehensive and addresses the need of balancing the human rights of Sikhs and security concerns associated with courthouses. We will be working to ensure that the Sikh community is familiar with the accommodation guidelines and that the rollout of the policy proceeds smoothly."