Calgary man denied courthouse entry for wearing kirpan

A Sikh man says his Charter rights were violated when he was not allowed to take his ceremonial dagger into the Calgary courthouse.

A Sikh man says his Charter rights were violated when he was not allowed to take his ceremonial dagger into the Calgary courthouse.

Tejinder Sidhu was not allowed to enter the Calgary courthouse with his kirpan. ((CBC))

Tejinder Sidhu, 25, had been summoned to court Monday by subpoena to testify as a witness to a fatal car accident.

Sidhu was stopped at the airport-style security screening, which greets all visitors to the Calgary Courts Centre that opened last fall. An Alberta sheriff told him he would have to leave his kirpan at security or he couldn't enter the building.

Baptized orthodox Sikh men and women carry the small ceremonial dagger under their clothes as a symbol of their religious beliefs.

Sidhu offered to be escorted in to testify if he could keep his kirpan, but that was rejected.

"I don't feel that I should be asked to remove it — especially being a witness to a case — I'm being basically denied my civil duty or my civil right … to testify in court," Sidhu told CBC News.

"So after basically debating for about five, 10 minutes, basically, I just left the courthouse and was unable to fulfil my civic right or my civic duty."

A kirpan, worn under the clothes, is a Sikh ceremonial dagger and symbol of the faith. ((CBC))

Sidhu said he asked the officer to pass on to the judge that he wanted to testify but couldn't get in because of the security requirement.

Andy Weiler, spokesman for the Alberta solicitor general's office, which oversees courthouse security, said kirpans are on the list of items banned from Alberta courthouses.

But Weiler said the department will review the incident and examine how other jurisdictions in Canada handle the issue.

Kirpan policies vary

In Canada, the debate over whether to allow Sikhs to wear kirpans in public places has been going on for more than a decade. The daggers are allowed in some public buildings such as the House of Commons but banned from airplanes.

In January, VIA Rail modified its policy to allow kirpans worn by Sikhs after a human rights complaint by a passenger.

Weiler said no one has complained about the ban on kirpans in other cities in Alberta that have security screening in their courthouses.

He said the ban applies to the public and is in place to ensure everyone's safety. Sikh staff and lawyers, who are not subject to security screening, are allowed to carry kirpans.

Stephen Jenuth, president of the Alberta Civil Liberties Association, said the rule is absurd and smacks of intolerance.

"If you have a small object of this sort, which really has no utility as a weapon, to try and prohibit it is no different than trying to prohibit a crucifix," he said.