Canada to allow Sikh kirpans in its embassies and missions abroad

Published: April 18, 2014

Kirpans, stylized swords worn by initiated Sikh men and women as dictated by their religious beliefs, are now allowed in embassies. Jason Payne/ PNG

JEFF LACROIX-WILSON
OTTAWA CITIZEN

Eight years after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that kirpans – the ceremonial daggers worn by those of the Sikh faith – could be safely brought into schools under certain conditions, they will now be allowed into all Canadian embassies and missions abroad.

But not without some restrictions, documents released to the Citizen show. The documents also discuss potential security concerns.

In announcing that the kirpan can now be worn in Canada’s diplomatic missions, the department of foreign affairs and international trade said the policy “allows Canada to demonstrate its commitment to religious freedom without unduly increasing security risks to mission staff and visitors.”

“Canada’s diversity is one of our greatest strengths, and freedom of religion is a fundamental Canadian value,” said Minister of State Tim Uppal in a TV appearance. “Our government’s new kirpan policy will serve as an example and promote Canadian values around the world.”

The Sikh dagger is already allowed into Canadian missions in Delhi and Chandigarh, India, but only if the kirpan has dull edges and the blade is less than three inches in length. “To date no visitors have complained about this practice,” the department says in background notes obtained by the Citizen.

Kirpans are also allowed in the Indian parliament, to a maximum length of 9 cm “inclusive of 6 cm of blade,” documents say.

Missions of other western countries, such as the United Kingdom, United States and Australia, do not permit the wearing of kirpans unless they are very small, symbolic ones.

Canada’s newly announced policy allows Sikhs to wear the kirpan inside all 270 diplomatic missions across 180 countries, but only if the kirpan is “secured within a sheath, attached to a fabric belt, worn across the torso and under clothing prior to entering the mission premises.”

In addition, the person wearing it must “be in possession of the four other Sikh articles of faith”: a wooden comb (worn under the turban); an iron or steel bracelet; cotton undergarments; and unshorn hair covered at all times with a turban.

In drawing up the policy, the background notes say, Foreign Affairs “aims to strike a balance between allowing for religious freedom and upholding its mandated duty of care in terms of the security of mission staff and visitors.”

“Although incidents involving kirpans are rare, they can and do happen – such as the one that took place in Brampton, Ontario, in April 2010. This particular incident resulted in a kirpan-inflicted wound of 12 cm and a charge of attempted murder for the assailant.”

(In this instance, two men unsheathed their kirpans in a large crowd that had gathered outside a Sikh temple and one stabbed the temple’s 53-year-old president in the stomach.)

Further, the background notes say, “Given the diverse and complex nature of security in the international context, allowing for longer and sharper kirpan blades than those currently allowed in India by the Indian parliament could pose undue risk to the security of mission personnel and visitors – not due to the probability that they will be used as offensive weapons but due to the severity of injuries that could be inflicted if they were used … “

The department did not respond to questions from the Citizen about security concerns.

The World Sikh Organization of Canada, however, celebrated the policy as a step forward.

“The accommodation of the kirpan at Canadian diplomatic missions around the world is a deeply significant move that shows that the Government of Canada understands and respects the significance of the kirpan to Sikhs,” said Amritpal Singh Shergill, the organization’s president.

For Sikhs, the small curved dagger signifies one’s duty to stand against injustice. A video on the World Sikh Organization’s website compares forced removal of one’s kirpan to the removal of an arm.

In Canada, the Supreme Court reached a unanimous decision in 2006 ruling the kirpan is “not a symbol of violence … To assume it (is) is disrespectful to believers in the Sikh religion.”

“There are many objects in schools that could be used to commit violent acts and that are much more easily obtained by students, such as scissors, pencils and baseball bats,” the judges concluded.

There are approximately 22 million Sikhs worldwide. About 500,000 live in Canada.

Related stories:

– With files from Lee Berthiaume (Ottawa Citizen)

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,




Featured

football-100year journey

B.C.’s South Asian pioneer Ranjit Mattu mentored many football stars

SPECIAL TO VANCOUVER DESI Even as a child, Ranjit Mattu knew he had game. From his first play on the field of Mount Pleasant Elementary,…
Continue Reading »

pioneers

Dharm Singh Gill changed the way Sikhs were regarded for wearing turbans at work

SPECIAL TO VANCOUVER DESI Little did Dharm Singh Gill realize that an act of heroism would change the way Sikhs were regarded for wearing their…
Continue Reading »

Jacqui Feldman shows off a recovering Sugar, her 13-year-old poodle that Terra Nova vet Dr. Javaid Chaudhry, rear, helped save after operating to remove a tumour. Feldman, who is battling cancer herself, fell on hard times and couldn’t afford to pay the $3,000-plus for Sugar’s procedure.  Alan Campbell/Richmond News

Richmond veterinarian steps up to save cancer sufferer’s dying dog

ALAN CAMPBELL RICHMOND NEWS Richmond’s Jacqui Feldman, who’s suffering from terminal cancer, is crediting a local veterinarian with saving her life. It was a few weeks ago…
Continue Reading »

LOCAL NEWS

A look at Alberta Premier Rachel Notley’s first cabinet

THE CANADIAN PRESS EDMONTON — A look at Alberta’s NDP cabinet sworn in Sunday: Rachel Notley (Edmonton Strathcona) Premier, minister of intergovernmental affairs. Notley, 51,…
Continue Reading »

Japan-Canada trade talks stalled with no meetings in sight

By Mike Blanchfield THE CANADIAN PRESS OTTAWA — Trade talks have stalled between Canada and Japan — one of the Harper government’s priority countries for…
Continue Reading »

football-100year journey

B.C.’s South Asian pioneer Ranjit Mattu mentored many football stars

SPECIAL TO VANCOUVER DESI Even as a child, Ranjit Mattu knew he had game. From his first play on the field of Mount Pleasant Elementary,…
Continue Reading »

Don't Miss...

weight-loss

Do we need to exercise more or eat less?

JILL BARKER MONTREAL GAZETTE A battle is waging in the scientific journals between several prominent health and fitness experts. In one corner are physicians Aseem Malhotra,…
Continue Reading »

exam scores

Identical twins’ mark sheets almost as identical and the story of a courageous young achiever

HINDUSTAN TIMES AND VANCOUVER DESI They are identical twins and, interestingly, even their mark sheets look almost the same. Ranchi twins Aporupa and Anorupa Chattopadhyay …
Continue Reading »

India-pharma-under scanner

U.S. lawsuit puts generic drug imports from India under scanner

IANS Washington – A U.S. class action lawsuit accusing India’s Ranbaxy of large-scale deception on its generic drug applications puts a question mark on drug…
Continue Reading »

100 year journey

Apart from the overwhelming cold, Sucha Singh Bagri has fond memories of his first few days in B.C.

SPECIAL TO VANCOUVER DESI Sucha Singh Bagri arrived in Canada with his father Harnam Singh Bagri on Feb 2, 1935, on the Empress of Russia,…
Continue Reading »

swimsuits

Who wants to be a Princess? Beauty pageant contestants undergo rigorous training

VANCOUVER DESI Divas aspiring to become Indian Princesses are undergoing rigorous training before the grand finale of the beauty pageant in Mumbai. Indian princess pageant 2015 ◄…
Continue Reading »


Bollywood Latest

Items of clothing are displayed in room 331 of the Martinez Hotel, where Parisian fashion house Elie Saab provides sartorial services to celebrities attending the 68th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Thursday, May 21, 2015. During the Cannes Film Festival, room 331 is radically transformed into a red carpet emergency room - where celebrities like Naomi Watts and Nicole Kidman can rush to if they pop out of a dress, or a zipper breaks. Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP

‘Nip slips’ and broken zippers: Red carpet Emergency Room for Cannes wardrobe malfunctions always full of drama

THOMAS ADAMSON THE ASSOCIATED PRESS CANNES, France – For most of the year, room 331 of the Martinez Hotel is just your run-of-the mill luxury…
Continue Reading »

Bollywood

Bollywood beauty Aishwarya Rai doesn’t leave her daughter alone even for a night

HINDUSTAN TIMES Apart from walking the red carpet at Cannes Film Festival, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan is also screening footage from her upcoming film, Jazbaa. The first…
Continue Reading »

Bollywood

Photos: Aishwarya Rai an absolute stunner at Cannes 2015 (updated)

VANCOUVER DESI Former beauty queen Aishwarya Rai Bachchan has been a Cannes regular for over a decade now. But this year marks her comeback to the…
Continue Reading »