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ConU ambiguous on wearing of kirpan

by Jacques Gallant March 1, 2011

While the debate over wearing a kirpan in public has heated up since Quebec’s National Assembly unanimously voted to ban it from its premises last month, the dagger worn by Sikhs as a religious object is welcome on campus at Concordia, at least for now.

Although the university has a policy that bans “all weapons” from campus, this clause does not specifically include the kirpan, wrote media relations advisor Fiona Downey in an email, which further indicated that Concordia has no intention of implementing a kirpan ban in the near future.

“Given that the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that a ban on a kirpan at a high school was invalid and infringed on freedom of religion and given that Concordia has never had an incident involving a kirpan, Concordia does not consider the kirpan worn for religious purposes to be a ‘weapon,’” said Downey.

However, should an incident with the religious object arise, Downey indicated that the relevant provisions of the university’s Code of Rights and Responsibilities would apply.

On Feb. 9, the National Assembly voted unanimously in support of a Parti quebecois motion banning the wearing of the kirpan on its premises. The vote came after a group of Sikhs were turned away from the legislature for refusing to turn over their kirpans to security three weeks earlier. The decision attracted even more controversy when PQ secularism critic Louise Beaudoin said that while multiculturalism may be a value for Canada, it is not for Quebec.

In a press release issued last month, the president of the Concordia Sikh Students Association, Mukhbir Singh, expressed his association’s disappointment at the National Assembly’s decision, but praised Concordia for representing “what Canadian culture is truly about.”

“We don’t hear of any issues of racism at Concordia because there rarely ever exist any; we are a model of the future of this city,” read the statement.

Several legislatures and courts have indeed ruled that the kirpan should not be viewed as a weapon, and as such it is permitted on the premises of institutions such as the Canadian Parliament.

In the press release, the CSSA indicated that the National Assembly’s vote “represented a turn away from the values of tolerance and multiculturalism,” and asked if the debate is now more about the inclusion of minorities in Quebec.

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