Kirpan is not a weapon: Ignatieff

The Liberal Party is defending the right of devout Sikhs to wear religious ceremonial daggers in provincial legislatures, chiding a Bloc Quebecois proposal to ban their presence in Parliament.

Tories remain silent on Sikh ceremonial dagger controversy

The Liberal Party is defending the right of devout Sikhs to wear religious ceremonial daggers in legislatures.

Federal Liberal Party Leader Michael Ignatieff speaks in Montreal on Thursday. ((CBC))
The party's statement goes against a Bloc Québécois proposal to ban their presence in Parliament.

The announcement by Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff on Thursday, which echoes the position of the NDP, makes it clear that any attempt to ban the kirpan would face resistance in Parliament.

That puts Ignatieff at odds with the Quebec legislature, which earlier this week barred entry to a group of Sikhs who were wearing their kirpans.

It now appears clear that the Bloc Québécois would never receive the all-party consensus it needs to have the Commons' board of internal economy declare the kirpan a security threat.

"The kirpan is not a weapon," Ignatieff told reporters in Montreal. "It's a religious symbol and we have to respect it."

When asked about the issue Thursday, Ignatieff said that it should be treated as a question of religious freedom rather than simply a security matter.

"All Canadians have the right to have access to democratic spaces and legislatures," he said in French.

"I was sorry to hear about the Bloc's proposals on the issue."

Ignatieff was in Montreal as part of a cross-country tour of ridings the Liberals will target in the next election.

Among those ridings is Jeanne-Le Ber, which Liberals narrowly lost to the Bloc in 2008.

Tories remain silent

A group of Sikhs were denied access to Quebec's national assembly on Tuesday. ((CBC))
Ignatieff's comments leave the Conservative government as the only remaining national party that has yet to take a position on the issue.

Requests for comment from Jason Kenney, minister responsible for multiculturalism, were met with a response that he was travelling on Wednesday and again on Thursday.

The Prime Minister's Office also declined to comment.

On Thursday, a Kenney spokesman sent the following emailed response: "Our government does not believe parliamentary security should be directed by partisan politics. Specific questions on the security of the House of Commons should be directed to the sergeant-at-arms."

The issue surfaced on the same week that the Tories made a visible display of wooing the Sikh vote in suburban Toronto.

A party candidate in Brampton-Springdale issued a news release celebrating defections from the riding association of his rival, Liberal MP Ruby Dhalla, and declaring that the Conservative Party cared about delivering results for new Canadians.

At the same time the Conservative Party is hoping to gain ground in Quebec, where the kirpan ban has ignited no major opposition and, based on initial reaction, may be quite popular.

If the kirpan issue causes political dilemmas for some, the Liberals and NDP have taken an unequivocal line. New Democrats have already called the Bloc move shameful.