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The Supreme Court of Canada court reserves
judgment in case of kirpan

Ottawa: April 12, 2005

The Supreme Court of Canada reserved judgment Tuesday on the case of a Sikh student who was forbidden from wearing his ceremonial dagger in class.

It's the first time the issue has come before the country's highest court.

The controversy began in 2001 when Gurbaj Singh Multani's kirpan -- a dagger he is required to wear under the tenets of his Sikh religion -- dropped out in his Montreal elementary school yard.

After hundreds of parents pressured the school board to enforce a zero-tolerance policy on weapons, the board banned the 12-year-old from wearing the dagger, saying it posed a danger to others.

In response, the Multani family launched a lawsuit and moved the boy to a private school, where he is permitted to wear a kirpan.

The Multanis won this lawsuit but the school board's position was upheld by the Quebec Court of Appeal 13 months ago.

The court ruled that the ban was a reasonable limit to the Charter's guarantee of freedom of religion.

The trial has reignited a controversy from the 1990s when school boards in cities such as Vancouver and Toronto agreed to permit the kirpans as long as the students would carefully conceal them.

The Globe and Mail reported a Canadian Civil Liberties Association brief sides with the Multanis, saying: "The 'zero tolerance' policy makes no attempt to accommodate religious freedom or even to balance the competing rights and interests at stake."

Meanwhile, the lawyer for the Multani family, Julius Grey argues that pens, geometry compasses, and automobiles should be considered weapons if kirpans are held to be dangerous.

"A central point I will be making involves the danger of taking security too far," Grey told The Globe.

"How far can you restrain religious freedom?"

With files from The Canadian Press




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