National Assembly unanimously supports kirpan ban
QUEBEC CITY - The National Assembly has spoken with a single voice, unanimously approving a motion tabled by the Parti Québécois on Wednesday to fully support the legislature security team's decision to deny access to Sikhs wearing the kirpan.
A delegation from the World Sikh Organization arrived at the National Assembly three weeks ago to voice its opposition to Bill 94, one that would place limitations on women wearing a traditional Muslim headdress called a niqab.
The fear was that the law would also apply to Sikhs wearing the kirpan, a small knife that devout members wear underneath their clothing.
Except the delegation never got in the building, halted by the National Assembly's metal detectors and denied access for wearing something they were trying to defend.
"Between liberty of religion and security, those are two values, and you have to choose," said Louise Beaudoin, the PQ's critic for secularism.
The debate pitting the religious freedom of Sikhs to wear the kirpan against the inherent security concern of allowing it has been a hot topic in Quebec for years.
"Essentially it's focusing on security, and we support the decision made by the security agents of L'Assemblee Nationale," said Liberal Cultural Communities Minister Kathleen Weil. "Security agents have to make those kinds of decisions on a daily basis, whether it's in courthouses or in airports or here."
However, Sikhs don't consider the kirpan to be a weapon, and the National Assembly restaurant provides steak knives to whoever asks for one.
"Knives and kirpan are not exactly the same thing," Beaudoin said, laughing.
Liberal House Leader Jean-Marc Fournier equated the decision to deny people wearing the kirpan to the 1984 shootings at the National Assembly, when gunman Denis Lortie killed three people.
"They remember what happened here in the early 1980 and if you just know that, I think that's the answer, to use security," Fournier said.
The World Sikh Organization says this debate was never about security. In a statement the organization says this is "about the inclusion of minorities in Quebec, and the place of tolerance and multiculturalism."
"When you get this message from the National Assembly that the kirpan - and by extension Sikhs - are not welcomed here, it does leave you scratching your head," said Balpreet Singh, legal counsel for the organization who was one of the men denied access to the legislature three weeks ago. "I find it objectionable."
Beaudoin, however, doesn't appear to share the World Sikh Organization's belief that multiculturalism should be a priority here.
"Multiculturalism may be a Canadian value," Beaudoin retorted, "but it's not a Quebec one."
For Brossard's Tej Pal Singh Thind, the National Assembly's decision was not met with great enthusiasm.
"I feel disappointed in that carrying a kirpan does not interfere with the political life or any other social life in Quebec or in Canada," he said.
Thind's wife, however, doesn't agree.
Liliane Thind – a Christian – supports the decision in the name of overall safety.
"I feel that no weapon, and a kirpan is kind of a weapon, should be worn at the school or anywhere," she said. "You can do whatever you want at home."
But while the couple is not in agreement on this issue, they both agree that Beaudoin's comment on multiculturalism was inappropriate, at best.
"It shows intolerance and ignorance," Thind said.