A group of four Sikhs scheduled to make a presentation at Quebec's national assembly Tuesday morning were denied entry to the legislature because they refused to remove their kirpans.
The representatives of the World Sikh Organization were scheduled to address the legislative committee looking at Bill 94, the proposed law on the reasonable accommodation of the religious and cultural practices of minorities in the Quebec civil service and society in general.
The four, who travelled to Quebec City from Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal, said they called national assembly security Monday to ask if their religious ceremonial daggers would present a problem.
After receiving conflicting responses, the men said they decided to come anyway.
When they arrived, security guards offered them the option to put the kirpan in a safe place, but they refused and were denied entry.
"This decision was taken by the security services, solely for security reasons," said Parti Québécois assembly member Bernard Drainville, the chair of the committee on reasonable accommodation.
In the Sikh religion, it is forbidden to remove the kirpan, which is kept against the skin under clothing.
If Ottawa allows them, why not Quebec?
Both the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa and the Supreme Court of Canada allow kirpans.
One member of the group, Balpreet Singh, said he thinks it's a shame that the federal Parliament makes accommodations for Sikhs wearing the kirpan, but Quebec's national assembly does not.
"Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to enter because we wear the kirpan, which is a bit ironic because we were here to speak upon the issue of accommodation and we weren't accommodated," said Singh.
Quebec Minister of Immigration and Cultural Communities Kathleen Weil said the rule was established by security officials at the national assembly.
"[The national assembly] is an independent institution, there are different directives, courthouses can also establish those kinds of rules, airports, different parliaments," said Weil.
Not the first time
This is not the first incident involving kirpans at Quebec's national assembly.
A year ago, a group of 20 Sikhs were invited to the legislature by a Liberal MNA. Only the leader of the group was allowed to keep the smaller of his two kirpans, and he was escorted by heavy security.
Parti Québécois MNA Louise Beaudoin said she agrees with the decision made Tuesday to bar Sikhs from entering with kirpans.
"It may be a religious choice, but maybe it's not a choice that everybody should accept everywhere," said Beaudoin.
The security department at the assembly said it considers the kirpan a weapon, and will continue to ban them unless given specific orders from Quebec politicians to the contrary.