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Opening courtrooms to Khalsa Sikhs

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Part of our work with police and security services is raising awareness of the need to accommodate different groups. As a result of our involvement of in one case, Sikhs who wish to enter a Toronto courthouse wearing a kirpan (stylized representation of a sword) now face fewer barriers according to a May 2012 settlement with the Toronto Police Service (TPS), the Toronto Police Services Board and the Ministry of the Attorney General.

Two complaints led to this settlement. The OHRC was involved in one involving a woman on a mandatory class trip to the Victim/Witness Assistance Program at the courthouse in Old City Hall. Court officers denied her entry when she refused to remove her kirpan. She explained that a Sikh cannot unsheathe a kirpan or be separated from it. The court officers insisted on examining the kirpan and decided that it was prohibited. She felt that her only option was to leave.

The second case involved a man who was summoned for jury duty at the University Avenue courthouse. He informed the police officer that he was wearing a kirpan and was permitted to enter. After lunch, when he tried to re-enter the courthouse, he was denied entry and provided with a written statement that stated “jury member carrying a kirpan excused. Advised zero tolerance.”

The TPS agreed to revise its procedures to ensure that practicing members of the Sikh faith will be allowed to wear kirpans in public areas of courthouses, subject to an individualized risk assessment. The TPS will also seek input from the World Sikh Organization of Canada and the OHRC on training for its court officers dealing with the duty to accommodate Sikhs wearing the kirpan, under the Code ground of creed.

If a person wearing a kirpan wants to enter a Toronto courthouse, they must take the following steps:

  • Upon arrival, inform the court officer they are a Khalsa Sikh wearing a kirpan
  • Be willing to show they are wearing all articles of the Sikh faith, if requested
  • The total length of the kirpan, including the sheath, may not exceed 7.5 inches with a blade of not more than 4 inches
  • The kirpan must be worn under clothing and not be easily accessible and must remain so throughout the courthouse attendance.

The Ministry of the Attorney General’s Court Services Division will also work with the TPS to identify the best way to have security screenings at each Toronto courthouse.

“This accommodation procedure is an important step in recognizing the needs of Khalsa Sikhs and making Toronto courthouses accessible to them,” said Balpreet Singh, counsel with the World Sikh Organization of Canada.

“The Toronto Police Service is pleased to have worked cooperatively to arrive at a procedure which recognizes the needs and rights of the Sikh community and the obligation to provide a safe, secure and accessible courthouse environment,” said Acting Deputy Chief Jeff McGuire.


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