TORONTO, May 16, 2012 /CNW/ - Sikhs who wish to enter a Toronto courthouse wearing a kirpan (stylized representation of a sword) now face fewer barriers according to a settlement reached with the Toronto Police Service, Toronto Police Services Board, and the Ministry of the Attorney General.
The Toronto Police Service ("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 Ontario Human Rights Commission on training for its court officers dealing with the duty to accommodate the kirpan related to a person's creed under the Human Rights Code ("Code").
The following conditions will apply if a person wishes to enter a Toronto courthouse wearing a kirpan:
- A person who wishes to enter a Toronto courthouse wearing a kirpan must self-identify as Khalsa Sikh and inform the court officer that they are carrying a kirpan upon arrival;
- All articles of the Sikh faith must be worn and available for proof, if required;
- 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 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 is a step in the right direction, combining respect for a person's religious observances with accommodation principles and Code obligations," said Chief Commissioner, Barbara Hall.
"Our client is very pleased that his human rights claim led to clarification of the procedures for practicing Sikhs to participate in court processes," said Bay Ryley, counsel with the Human Rights Legal Support Centre.
"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.
The settlement resulted from two different complaints alleging discrimination because of creed under the Code. In the first case, a woman who needed to attend a mandatory class trip to the Victim/Witness Assistance Program at the courthouse in Old City Hall was denied entry by court officers 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 attempted 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 settlement is in line with previous court decisions such as in AGDA Group Consultants v. Lane (2008), where the court held that "risk can only be considered in the context of an undue hardship analysis, not an independent justification of discrimination".
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Ontario Human Rights Commission