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Lysiane Gagnon

Security trumps religious accommodation Add to ...

The security guards at Quebec’s National Assembly were perfectly right to demand that the four members of the World Sikh Organization remove their kirpans – the ceremonial daggers they hold at the waist – before entering the building.

The Sikh activists refused and made a big fuss about it – obviously they wanted to paint Quebec as a province where minority rights are trampled on. But do these gentlemen keep their kirpans on when they board a flight? Of course they don’t, since airport security bans all sharp objects.

Many legislative assemblies throughout the world set up metal detectors because the presence of a large number of elected officials can be an easy target for all sorts of criminals, as Quebeckers were shocked to realize in 1984 when Denis Lortie, a demented ex-soldier, walked into the legislature with a machine gun, killing three people and wounding 13.

If Mr. Lortie hadn’t been confused about the timing of the session, the carnage would have been much worse than the recent Tucson massacre, for the gunman’s goal was to kill premier René Lévesque and as many MNAs as possible.

The federal Parliament, as well as most provincial legislatures and Via Rail, allow Sikhs to keep their ceremonial daggers on. I think this is a mistake. It is yet another misguided example of multiculturalism gone wild.

Many will argue that the Sikh visitors to the Quebec legislature had nothing but peaceful intentions. And it seems that there are few recorded incidents of Sikhs using their kirpan as a weapon, as happened last year in Brampton, Ont., when a prominent Sikh lawyer was stabbed in the abdomen with a kirpan outside a temple.

But then, I had nothing but peaceful intentions when I recently walked through a security gate at the Shanghai airport and the agent confiscated the tiny manicure scissors I had forgotten to put in my check-in baggage. How many recorded cases are there of middle-aged ladies committing a crime with a manicure scissor?

And where’s the logic? The Supreme Court of Canada, in 2006, ruled that kirpans shouldn’t be allowed in schools unless they are sewn into a sheath worn under the clothes. Why would adult men, who are presumably more dangerous than 12-year-old boys, be allowed in sensitive areas with a dagger hanging at the waist?

This is not a question of minority rights – otherwise, any practice deemed “religious” or “cultural” by a group should be accepted, including polygamy or female genital mutilation. Why would a secular state like Canada – a state that doesn’t allow people to walk around with guns – bend over backward to accommodate fundamentalist groups who hardly represent their own communities?

I’m in favour of religious accommodation with religious minorities, as long as they don’t constitute an undue burden on the delivery of public services and do not pose a security risk.

Actually, I happen to agree with the Sikhs who came to the National Assembly to express their opposition to the bill currently being examined by Quebec’s legislators, a part of which might prevent women who wear face-covering veils like the niqab from receiving health or education services. (The province’s human rights commission has already expressed strong reservations against this provision.)

Contrary to the kirpan, a veil is not an arm. It surely is a detestable symbol of female submission, but symbols cannot hurt people.

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