Ottawa: The Supreme Court of Canada refused on Thursday to hear the appeal of a Sikh man and woman who were prohibited from entering Quebec’s legislature while wearing kirpans.
The refusal to hear the case upheld previous decisions from the Quebec Superior Court and Quebec Court of Appeal that found the legislature had the right to establish its own rules.
As usual, the high court gave no reason for its refusal to hear the case.
Both lower courts found that the right to exclude strangers from its premises fell under the scope of parliamentary privilege, and that this privilege is not subject to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The case dates back to January 2011, when World Sikh Organization of Canada members Balpreet Singh and Harminder Kaur did not want to part with their ceremonial daggers as they headed into a legislature hearing to submit a brief.
Weeks later, the legislature unanimously passed a motion stating that security personnel had the right to refuse entry to anyone who did not want to remove the article of faith.
The pair originally argued the legislature’s ban was unconstitutional, but later changed their position to say it was legal but non-binding.
Superior Court Justice Pierre Journet rejected their arguments in 2015, affirming the authority of the legislature to “exclude kirpans from its precincts as an assertion of parliamentary privilege over the exclusion of strangers.”
Quebec’s appellate court upheld that decision earlier this year.
The Sikh organization’s president said Thursday he was disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision, noting that it comes as Quebec’s newly-elected government is promising to ban state employees in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols.
“Given the political climate in Quebec with the current government threatening a ban on religious symbols in general, we fear that religious minorities in Quebec risk being marginalized and excluded even further,” Mukhbir Singh said in a statement.
“While we were hopeful that our case would be revisited based on the new framework for parliamentary privilege developed by the Supreme Court of Canada in the recently released Chagnon case, we are reviewing all our options under Canadian and international law.”
In 2006, the Supreme Court of Canada sanctioned the wearing of kirpans in schools across the country, recognizing the religious character of the object.
That decision reversed an earlier judgment by Quebec’s Court of Appeal that had allowed a ban on the grounds that a kirpan could cause a safety risk.
By Melanie Marquis, The Canadian Press