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Canada rules in favour of Sikh boy

The Supreme Court has ruled that a Sikh boy can wear his ceremonial dagger to school.

india Updated: Mar 03, 2006 14:27 IST
Indo-Asian News Service
Indo-Asian News Service

Canada's Supreme Court has ruled that a Montreal school infringed on a Sikh boy's religious freedom under the Charter of Rights when it banned a student from wearing his ceremonial dagger to school.

In an eight-zero judgment, the court Thursday overturned a 2004 decision by the Quebec Court of Appeals that barred Gurbaj Singh Multani, now 17, from wearing his ceremonial dagger or kirpan to school due to a "no weapons" policy five years ago.

While the board of education alleged that the kirpan raised safety issues, Multani's family argued that banning the kirpan violated his religious rights.

When the Supreme Court heard the arguments last April, several organisations, including the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the Ontario Human Rights Commission, and the World Sikh Organisation of Canada intervened to support the family.

The court allowed the Ontario Human Rights Commission to intervene in the case, agreeing that the province had an interest in the outcome. And the outcome, in favour of Multani, now will allow other practicing Sikh students maintain their religious obligations. There are an estimated 250,000 Sikhs in Canada.

"I feel very good that we won our rights. Everybody should stand for their rights," Multani told reporters outside the court, surrounded by supporters and members of the Sikh community. He said his battle had been worth it.

In its decision, Canada's highest court stated: "Religious tolerance is a very important value of Canadian society...By disregarding the right to freedom of religion, and by invoking the safety of the school community without considering the possibility of a solution that posed little or no risk, the school board made an unreasonable decision."

The commission supported Multani's position, arguing in favour of a balanced approach to freedom of religion and safety and security as it did 15 years earlier in the case of Pandori v. Peel Board of Education, according to a press release from the commission.

In that case, a human rights tribunal and the Ontario Divisional Court agreed that staff, students and teachers should be allowed to wear a kirpan as long as it is a reasonable size, worn under the clothing, and secured with a stitched flap so that it cannot be removed from its sheath. Since the time of that decision, there have been no incidents of misuse of a kirpan in Ontario schools.

A number of schools in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario have long permitted the wearing of kirpan subject to certain conditions.

First Published: Mar 03, 2006 13:21 IST