Canadian Sikhs have gone before various human rights commissions to struggle for their rights to wear their articles of faith, specifically the kirpan and dastar (turban). The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects freedom of religion and guarantees equality rights to all persons in Canada. Canadian courts have found that there is a duty to accommodate differences to the point of “undue hardship”. This is a very high standard and means that unless accommodating differences (religious, physical, etc) is essentially impossible, every step must be taken to make the required changes.
The wearing of a dastar is a fundamental part of the Sikh religion. It is integral to the dress code of a Sikh. dastars may be worn by both men and women, as well as children. Other forms of religious head covering alternatively worn by practicing Sikhs, include the rumaal (scarf or bandana), chuni (loose fitting scarf), or patka (tightly tied head covering).
Due to the efforts of the WSO, and courageous Sikhs who have fought for freedom of religion, the right of Canadian Sikhs to wear the dastar has been confirmed in a number of different settings.
There have been several cases and instances across Canada where Sikhs were initially banned by Legion Halls to enter with their dastars. Following intervention by the WSO, and some successful human rights cases, the wearing of dastars in Legion Halls is no longer an issue.
Canadian courts have found that restrictions on the dastar due to uniform requirements are unacceptable. In Sehdev v. Bayview Glen Junior Schools Ltd. (1988), it was found that a prohibition of the dastar in a public school was religious discrimination. That same year, in Khalsa v. Co-op Cabs and Grewal v. Checker Cabs Ltd., human rights commissions in Ontario and Alberta ruled that a restriction on the dastar due to uniform requirements on the job were discrimination and unacceptable. The issue seems completely resolved after the 1995 Federal Court of Appeal decision in Grant v. Canada (Attorney General) (also known as the RCMP Turban case, where WSO appeared as Interveners), where the Court upheld an RCMP decision allowing Sikh officers to wear dastars. If you or someone you know is facing difficulty wearing their turban, chuni, rumaal, or patka while on the job or in school, you should contact WSO.
While British Columbia has upheld the right of Sikh motorcyclists to be exempt from helmet requirements, and has in fact created a legislative exemption for the dastar, the issue has not been resolved in other provinces. Ontario’s government is taking a radically different approach, and vehemently opposes a Sikh riding a motorcycle without a helmet. In a case presently before the Courts, Mr. Badesha faces criminal charges for riding a motorcycle without a helmet. This case is due to be heard in November 2007. WSO is acting in a consultative capacity to the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
This issue is still undecided, and the main consideration is safety. Since the 1990’s, WSO has worked with individual employers across the country, such as sawmills, to grant exemptions to their employees from the wearing of hard hats. Presently, employers from diverse regions across the country are willing to accommodate the dastar. In Bhinder v. Canadian National Railway Co., the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that a policy making hard hats mandatory could be upheld. Subsequent Supreme Court of Canada judges have commented that they might have decided the Bhinder case very differently had it been commenced after the coming into force of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As yet, no case has gone back before the Supreme Court of Canada dealing with the hard hat and dastar issue. If you or someone you know is having difficulty, with your employment due to hard hat requirements, you should contact the WSO.
Sikhs participating in amateur sports, such as boxing, have successfully been able to win the right to wear their dastar’s and keep unshorn beards. Local soccer, basketball and other sports leagues around the country have permitted Sikhs to participate freely wearing their articles of faith. However, where issues have arisen, these have been addressed on a case by case basis by the WSO. Most recently, WSO expressed its support to a Muslim girl who was prevented from playing soccer with her hijab. The WSO knows of no prohibition against the wearing of the dastar or other Sikh head covering, in amateur soccer.
The kirpan is not a weapon but an important article of faith for the Sikhs, and is not considered a weapon according to the law or by Canadian courts.
Due to efforts by the WSO, and courageous Sikhs who have fought for freedom of religion, the right of Canadian Sikhs to wear the kirpan has been confirmed in a number of different settings.
Since the early 1990’s, the kirpan has been allowed in hospitals and rehabilitation facilities. The WSO knows of no current restrictions on the kirpan in these venues.
The Supreme Court of Canada allows kirpans into the courtroom, as do many other jurisdictions across Canada. Since 1990, Sikh lawyers have had full access in B.C. to wearing their kirpan inside courtrooms. Similar accommodations have been achieved for lawyers and staff working inside courtrooms. However, there are still many jurisdictions which may place restrictions or prohibitions on witnesses, litigants, jurors, or members of the public, in wearing their kirpan inside the courtroom. If you or someone you know is facing difficulty in accessing the courthouse with your kirpan, you should contact the WSO immediately
While Ontario schools, and most other provinces, have allowed Sikhs to wear the kirpan on school premises since 1990, the right was confirmed by Canada’s highest court in Singh-Multani c. Marguerite-Bourgeoys (Commission scolaire), in 2006 (commonly known as the Multani case, where WSO participated as Intervenors). The court found that any attempt to call the kirpan a weapon was “contradicted by the evidence regarding the symbolic nature of the kirpan, it is also disrespectful to believers in the Sikh religion and does not take into account Canadian values based on multiculturalism”. Presently, Sikhs enjoy an unfettered right to wearing the kirpan in schools across the country.
After consultation with the WSO, Transport Canada guidelines were modified in the 1990’s to accommodate the kirpan. However, following 9-11, most airlines operating out of Canada restrict passengers wearing a kirpan. While kirpans have been allowed on trains and buses, following 9-11, there have been isolated cases across Canada of train conductors and bus driver’s preventing passengers from boarding with a kirpan. WSO has taken these issues on a case by case basis, with success, and may be able to help you if you or someone you know, are having difficulty accessing the courtroom with your kirpan.