QUEBEC — Several Sikhs were denied entry into the Quebec legislature Tuesday amid a heated debate over multiculturalism and just where to draw the line when it comes to tolerating cultural practices.
Security officials at Quebec’s assemblee nationale refused to let them in because they were wearing kirpans, small stylized daggers worn by some religious Sikhs.
Four representatives from the World Sikh Organization of Canada had planned to attend public hearings but were told by security to leave their daggers at the door if they wanted to enter. They refused.
The provincial government reacted with cautious language to the decision. The opposition Parti Quebecois, meanwhile, applauded heartily and said Canadian-style multiculturalism was unwelcome in Quebec.
The timing of the incident was laden with symbolism.
The visitors had planned to attend legislative hearings into a bill that would set some limits on religious practices — namely, denying government services to Muslim women with covered faces.
The Sikhs said that, while their own religion forbids covering women’s faces, they planned to speak out against the bill anyway, in the name of religious tolerance.
The Sikhs noted that legislatures in other provinces and in Ottawa had, unlike Quebec, allowed entry to Sikhs with kirpans — as had last year’s Vancouver Olympic venues, despite heavy security at the Games.
“The national assembly has no written rules or policies regarding the kirpan, and we can’t even find out who is making the decision to exclude us,” Balpreet Singh, the WSO’s legal counsel, said in a statement.
“The tenets of the Sikh faith also teach us to strive for justice and equality for everyone.
“Freedom of religion may be enshrined in Canada’s charter, but that’s meaningless unless we all stand up to protect the rights of religious minorities — especially when we disagree with their beliefs.”
The so-called reasonable accommodations debate raging in Quebec has often focused on Muslim women’s face-coverings and where they should be banned.
But the current debate arguably began years ago with a controversy over a boy who wasn’t allowed to wear his kirpan at school.
In that case, the Supreme Court of Canada finally ruled 8-0 that a total ban of the kirpan in schools violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms because it infringed on religious freedom. However, in that same 2006 decision, the court also allowed school boards to impose some restrictions in the name of public safety.
Nationalist commentators have, during Quebec’s ongoing debate, taken shots at the Canadian Charter of Rights and accused it of ramming excessive political correctness down Quebecers’ throats.