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Brampton lawyer Manjit Mangat was stabbed with a kirpan outside of the Sikh Lehar Centre in Brampton Ont. (Fernando Morales/Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)
Brampton lawyer Manjit Mangat was stabbed with a kirpan outside of the Sikh Lehar Centre in Brampton Ont. (Fernando Morales/Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)

Brampton stabbing revives debate over right to wear kirpan Add to ...

At first, Manjit Mangat didn't even realize he had been stabbed.

All he registered at the time was the crush of the mob surrounding him as he lay on the ground, battered and slipping in and out of consciousness. It wasn't until much later, when he collapsed in the hospital while trying to reach the bathroom, that he realized the extent of his injuries.

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But the attack last week outside his Brampton temple - and the alleged weapon, a kirpan used to stab him multiple times in the torso - has made international headlines and brought the ceremonial swords worn by observant Sikhs back into the limelight.

Kirpans have been a hotly debated topic in Canada for decades. Sikhs' right to wear them in public spaces and institutions has been affirmed in court multiple times dating to 1992 and more recently four years ago.

But with one Brampton man, 52-year-old Sukhwant Singh, charged with attempted murder and aggravated assault and due to appear in court Thursday, the issue is being debated once again.

Mr. Mangat wishes it weren't.

"By just one person's issue or irresponsible act, making it an issue or even an argument - 'The kirpan can be used as a weapon!' No. Kirpan has a different sanctity," he said. He pauses, and his eyes tear up.

"Somebody using kirpan on somebody who's lying on the ground and is harmless? That is humiliating."

The dispute arose when a prominent, recently excommunicated Sikh preacher was scheduled to lead prayers, Mr. Mangat said. Opponents in the community visited Mr. Mangat on multiple occasions the preceding week - in his law office, in the office of a local Punjabi newspaper and at the Sikh Lehar Centre where the alleged attack took place at about 6:40 p.m. last Friday.

"They said, 'If you don't stop it yourself, we will have to.' "

Jeet Kaur, a Mississauga resident who came to the Brampton gurdwara for prayers, said she's worried last week's attack could scare community members away from the religious gathering places. "Wouldn't you be scared to come to a place where there's a stabbing going on?" It's hard to even contemplate how kirpans could be more heavily regulated, she said, but it might be necessary.

"If things go on like that, if one person is given a chance, another person will do the same thing. … They should not ban the kirpan, but they should not let it be used in instances like this, for certain."

Julius Grey, a Quebec lawyer who spent years defending Sikh schoolchildren's right to wear kirpans, said the incident will likely result in calls for stricter regulation, but that shouldn't change anything.

"You can assault someone with anything - with a heavy book, with a geography compass," he said. "This is likely to elicit those calls [for greater regulation]but that's because of extreme sensitivity towards the kirpan."

Solange Lefebvre, a University of Montreal religion professor, said the issue of kirpans is far less sensitive in Ontario than in Quebec, where a protracted court battle over whether students could wear kirpans in school raised the hackles of many. The recent violence could renew calls to restrict the swords in school, she said.

This isn't the first violent incident involving kirpans in Canada: In 2001, Daljit Singh Gill was sentenced to a year in jail after stabbing a man with a kirpan outside a temple in B.C.'s Fraser Valley; in 1997, someone was stabbed in a Surrey temple. Over the past several years, kirpans have been involved in three incidents of violence in the Toronto area.

With a report from Celia Donnelly

 

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