VANCOUVER: Baptized Sikhs have been allowed to carry kirpan inside courts in British Columbia from April 12.
The Sikhs are already allowed to carry the kirpan inside courtrooms in Toronto, Alberta as well as the Canadian parliament.
The decision to allow Sikhs to carry kirpan inside courts followed after an assessment of the issue by B.C. sheriffs.
“British Columbia is making the policy change effective April 12 in keeping with other jurisdictions, as well as in response to human rights and Supreme Court of Canada decisions. Kirpan accommodation policies are already in effect in the Parliament of Canada buildings, the provincial court of Alberta, and in Toronto courthouses,’’ a BC government statement said on Wednesday.
Kirpan is one of the five Ks or religious symbols that baptized Sikhs wear all the time. A kirpan or short sword is one of these. The other four Ks are Kesh or unshorn hair, Kanga or wooden comb, Kara or steel bracelet, and Kachhera or breeches.
Any person wishing to enter a B.C. courthouse with a kirpan must inform the sheriff that they are wearing one and identify themselves as an Amritdhari Sikh.
There are size restrictions in place for kirpans allowed in the courtrooms. The length of the kirpan, including the sheath, should not exceed 7.5 inches, and its blade not more than 4 inches.
The Kesh and the Kara must be the proof of the person’s Khalsa Sikh status, and government-issued photo identification may also be requested, the statement says.
In addition to physical evidence and identification, the sheriff will assess potential risk factors by asking questions such as the reason for the visit, the type of court proceeding they wish to attend, and the person’s relation to the case.
But sheriffs maintain the discretion to refuse or admit a Kirpan into the courthouse on a case-by-case basis.
The World Sikh Organization which worked with BC sheriff services to train officers on the issue, welcomed the decision.
WSO President Prem Singh Vinning said, “The accommodation of the kirpan in BC courthouses is the result of a proactive dialogue and not the result of litigation. It flowed from open and productive discussions with the BC Ministry of Justice. We are pleased that more and more jurisdictions are adopting these kirpan guidelines, and that we also are able to offer the training resources necessary for a smooth roll out.”
WSO general legal counsel Palbinder Kaur Shergill said, “In order for members of the Sikh community to access courthouses to perform their civic duty and engage with the legal system, it is essential for the kirpan to be accommodated. We are confident that the BC courthouse guidelines for the kirpan balance both security and the freedom of religion rights of the Sikh community.”