Kirpans and Political Correctness

By David T. Jones on October 16, 2008


A kirpan is a kirpan is … a knife.

A kirpan wrapped up and under the clothing of the owner is … a concealed weapon.

And that is the essential problem.  A society cannot countenance one set of laws for one group of people and another set of laws for another.  It certainly cannot do so when public facilities:  schools; transportation; courts; libraries; etc are involved.  Bluntly, to take this approach is reverse bigotry by providing special privileges for a minority while increasing risk for the majority.

A threat of force can be explicit, re an armed soldier or a police officer.  Or it can be implicit for the vulnerable (old, weak, unarmed) who know that those they will encounter are armed and not constrained by law.  The legal judgments that permit Sikhs to carry kirpans when and where other Canadians cannot carry a weapon subject them to implicit threat.

The hypocrisy of judges banning kirpans in courtrooms while permitting them in schools is almost a parody of juridical insensitivity.  Protect yourselves while ignoring public safety.  Indeed, one wonders when a judge making such a ruling was last on a school playground?  “Miss Manners” is not widely read; Marquis of Queensbury rules are unknown.  Canadian schools are not “black board jungles,“ but no school is immune from violence.

And while Gurbaj Singh Multani, the original benefactor of the ruling, might have been the epitome of gentlemanly behavior, the 13 year old who threatened another student with a kirpan outside a Montreal school was not.  The rationale that the threat was not made on school property reminds a cynic of Bill Clinton’s definitional exercise that “it depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is“ when testifying regarding his sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

Frankly, it would be beyond known human nature, even under the most civilized of circumstances, that no young Sikh would employ his kirpan for other than religious purposes.  The kirpan reportedly can range from three inches to over three feet, although the standard blade length is approximately 3.5 inches, which is quite sufficient to inflict lethal injury.  (The kirpan used by Multani reportedly was eight inches long.)  And while the observing Sikh is enjoined not to use his kirpan aggressively, it can be used in self defense or “to protect a person in need“—certainly categories subject to considerable interpretation.     

Canadians have also seen that the Human Rights Commission has permitted another Sikh to wear a kirpan while riding Canada Rail—overriding existing national rail policy prohibiting weapons without exception.  Given recent bloody instances of knife assaults during travel by bus, passengers may be less sanguine over the presence of kirpan-bearing Sikhs on public transportation.

And this is not the end. Has this issue been tested for travel on Air Canada?  Will security concerns override religious rights for Sikhs in Canada?  Or are the memories of 9/11, when the terrorists used “box cutter” knives of kirpan dimensions (although not kirpans), the determining factor?

And while the rulings ostensibly apply only to Sikhs, who determines the “Sikh-ness,” so to speak, of an individual?  Is there a Canadian religious litmus test to identify who is a Sikh?  Can any individual simply profess to be a Sikh and, thereby, be exempted from weapons restrictions—at least so far as concealed carry in schools and trains is concerned?

Would you happily fly with a half dozen young males carrying kirpans?

Let us play “just suppose.”  Let us suppose that the local motorcycle gang declares itself as the “Church of Harley” with apostles including Jimmy Dean and Marlon Brando.  And they declare that their religious practice includes carrying machetes at all times.

Or let us suppose that a new “Christian” order begins teaching.  Their most prominent outward symbol is wearing a “crucifix” that has a sharpened point and edges.  You might call it a sword.

Are Canadians prepared to go down this road?

To be sure, these are exaggerations—but not beyond the realm of the legally possible if religious freedom is extrapolated along the lines Canadians have already seen.

Comparable religious beliefs conflict with U.S. security concerns.  However, regarding air passengers, there is one rule; no weapons are permitted.  Reportedly, in some California jurisdictions, schools require kirpans to be blunted and riveted into their sheaths; such an approach retains the religious symbolism but is impossible to use as a weapon.

The balance between freedom and security is always in play; Canadians should re-examine security before a fatal, “I told you so” event occurs.



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