Leadership requires the willingness to take unpopular positions. Michael Ignatieff showed that willingness this week when he went to Quebec and defended Sikhs' right to wear the kirpan, a ceremonial dagger, in the Quebec National Assembly and other legislative buildings in Canada.
It seemed almost brave of him to do so. But can that be? Does it now take bravery to speak up for a minority group in Canada? If so, is Mr. Ignatieff the only brave leader? Is leadership in such short supply?
How ironic that in the current era, politicians trip over one another to offer apologies for historical injustices, and fall silent over a current injustice, such as when four kirpan-wearing Sikhs, including a lawyer, were turned away this week from government hearings in Quebec without being able to debate a bill that would limit religious freedom. (Bill 94 would put limits on the wearing of face veils by Muslim women when they seek public services.)
To listen to Quebec's Liberal government, or to the Conservative government in Ottawa, after the Bloc Québécois mischievously called for a ban on kirpans in Parliament, the rules around who can enter into and take part in public hearings are set by security officials. Really? Are security officials a law unto themselves? Who works for whom? Security officials are subject to parameters set by government. And government itself is subject to the law of the land, namely the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In this atmosphere in which multiculturalism is a bit of a laughingstock in Quebec, and in which the gentle wisdom of the universally respected sociologist Gérard Bouchard and philosopher Charles Taylor has been virtually forgotten, only Mr. Ignatieff stepped into the breach. It wouldn't be seen as exceptional if others had spoken up. The kirpan, he said, is not a weapon. "All Canadians have the right to access their democratic and parliamentary spaces," he said in Montreal.
Was this a political calculation? If so, it's just as likely he lost as many votes as he gained. Some day, when this or that policy battle is forgotten, acts of leadership will be remembered. Mr. Ignatieff provided one.