As It Happens

Quebec vote on airplane kirpan rules 'discouraging,' says man who fought school board ban

Quebec's decision to challenge Transport Canada's new rules allowing small kirpans on planes is a step backward for inclusion and diversify, says Gurbaj Singh Multani.
Montrealer Gurbaj Singh Multani won the right to bring his kirpan to school in a 2006 Supreme Court of Canada decision. (Submitted by Gurbaj Singh Multani)

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Quebec's decision to challenge Transport Canada's new rules allowing small kirpans on planes is a step backward for inclusion and diversity, says Gurbaj Singh Multani.

In a nearly unanimous vote, Quebec's lawmakers passed a motion Wednesday asking the federal government to review Transport Canada's decision to allow blades under six centimetres in length onto domestic and international flights, except to the U.S.

Those new rules, which come into effect next week, bring Canada in line with International Civil Aviation Organization standards.

Multani has been fighting his whole life for the right to wear his Sikh ceremonial dagger.

In 2006, when he was still a teenager, he successfully challenged a Quebec school board's ban on kirpans in the classroom at the Supreme Court of Canada.

He spoke with As It Happens host Carol Off about this latest development. Here's part of that conversation.

What do you make of this vote?

It's discouraging. ... When we take one step closer to success and diversity, there are people who want to pull you back.

They say it's for security reasons, not some ethnic response. What do you say to Quebec?

First of all, we respected that from the beginning that there was a ban on the flying. ... We respected that because we understand the security at that level. We never raised any questions that we wanted to wear the kirpan on the flight.

But if Canada has taken steps towards that, I appreciated it, but now Quebec Assembly is opposing that. I find it very discouraging.

Multani is embraced by members of the Sikh community in the rotonda of the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa on March 2, 2006, after winning the right to wear his kirpan in school. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

The reason why Transport Canada made this decision, it said that it brings Canada in line with most other countries outside the United States that have allowed kirpans on flights. So what's your experience when you travel?

I wear a kirpan every day. Daily life. I went to school with it. But when I travel, let's say I'm flying strictly, I don't carry it with me.

Whenever I'm at the airport I'm always asked a question if I'm carrying a kirpan. So I never carry it on me and I keep it in my luggage and then when we land, I take it and I put it back on.

François Legault, the leader of Coalition Avenir Québec, said: 'I do not see how the federal government can accept knives in airplanes. It's not acceptable, even if it is for religious reasons.' (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

So what's wrong with that? Do you have a problem with keeping your kirpan in your luggage while you're travelling and then recovering it afterwards?

We never had a problem, but if somebody took step forward and allowed it, then why does Quebec have a problem? That's my question to them.

A kirpan is a ceremonial dagger carried by devout Sikh men. Transport Canada will allow them, and other blades, aboard commercial airlines starting Nov. 27 so long as they are six centimetres or shorter. (Brett Purdy/CBC)

What's your theory as to why Quebec is making this claim?

It's all political. It's nothing about people. People in Quebec, they are diverse and multicultural.

It's just that a certain amount of politicians ... have very narrow and closed thinking. I think they need to broaden up and open their eyes and see what's there right now. The world is opening. It's becoming smaller and smaller. Let's not close our doors. [Let's] keep our hearts open.