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A Montreal teenager displays his kirpan while waiting for a decision from the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa on March 2, 2006. (FRED CHARTRAND/The Canadian Press)
A Montreal teenager displays his kirpan while waiting for a decision from the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa on March 2, 2006. (FRED CHARTRAND/The Canadian Press)

Parliament to 'accept and embrace' wearing of kirpan, sergeant-at-arms explains Add to ...

Overlooked amid all the usual promises of improved decorum and tone in the House of Commons as MPs elected a new Speaker Thursday was this story about Kevin Vickers.

Mr. Vickers, 54, is the sergeant-at-arms in the Commons - perhaps familiar to some Canadians as the tall man in black carrying the mace into the House. Appointed in 2006, he oversees the security of the parliamentary precinct and sits quietly in his seat in the chamber when the Commons is in session.

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From his vantage point, he could tell you exactly who are the worst of the heckling MPs. But he is discreet. He is not elected; he does not seek the limelight or give interviews.

Wednesday night, however, just before MPs were to get back to work and he was to return to the chamber after the May 2 election, Mr. Vickers was honoured for his defence of the culture and values of the Commons.

Last winter, while the Quebec National Assembly banned the kirpan, Mr. Vickers moved to ensure that the ceremonial dagger be allowed in the Commons despite a Bloc Québécois motion calling for it to be prohibited.

For that, the World Sikh Organization of Canada paid tribute to him at a dinner in Ottawa. And there, Mr. Vickers, who had served for 29 years as an RCMP officer, explained in a moving speech his view of the country and what led to his decision.

He noted that as a young boy growing up in Miramichi, N.B., he saw his father invite home students from developing countries, who were studying about co-operatives at the Coady Institute at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S.

Sitting around the dining room table and listening to their stories, he said, he learned to respect the culture and dignity of others.

"I see your wearing of the kirpan, especially in our Parliamentary buildings, as exactly that, respecting your dignity," he told the WSO members. "But just as the kirpan issue came before us last winter, we are reminded how vigilant we must be to not only defend but promote the practices, cultures and religions of all peoples."

Mr. Vickers said that he doesn't like the word "tolerance" or the phrase "a tolerant society." "I am going to tolerate you wearing the kirpan within the Parliamentary Precinct. No. As head of security, I am going to accept and embrace your symbol of faith within the Parliamentary Precinct," he said.

"As we go forward, we should ask ourselves what Canada should be when it grows up," he said. "We have a long way to go before reaching adulthood. The seizure of the kirpans at the Quebec legislature last winter demonstrates the challenges that lay before us as we continue on this journey of sewing together the fabric of our nation with the thread of multiculturalism. Perhaps it would be beneficial for our country, as a nation, to define its core values. What are the core values of Canada, what makes up the soul and heart of our nation?"

Mr. Vickers recalled his interview for the post when he was asked why he wanted the job. "… I told them that if they made me their sergeant-at-arms, there would be no walls built around Canada's Parliamentary buildings," he said. "… and the fact that you may wear your kirpans within the House of Commons, proves there are no walls around Parliament and I have kept my promise."

 

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