For immediate publication
Toronto - The Supreme Court of Canada released its unanimous decision today in the case of Multani v. Commission scolaire Marguerite-Bourgeoys. The Court found in favour of Multani, ruling that his religious rights had been infringed.
Multani, a 12-year old Khalsa Sikh student in Montreal, had been forbidden from wearing his ceremonial kirpan dagger to school due to a “no weapons” policy. The board of education alleged that the kirpan presented safety issues, while Multani’s family argued that banning the kirpan violated his religious rights.
The Supreme Court allowed the Ontario Human Rights Commission to intervene in this case, agreeing that Ontario had an interest in the outcome, and that the Commission had unique arguments to offer.
The Commission supported Multani’s position, arguing in favour of a balanced approach to freedom of religion and safety and security as it did fifteen years earlier in the case of Pandori v. Peel Board of Education. The Commission argued that justifying the denial of religious accommodation calls for proof of undue hardship, rather than "what if" speculation about what might happen.
In Pandori, a human rights tribunal and the Ontario Divisional Court agreed that staff, students, and teachers should be allowed to wear a kirpan as long as it is a reasonable size, worn under the clothing, and secured with a stitched flap so that it cannot be removed from its sheath. Since the time of that decision, there have been no incidents of misuse of a kirpan in Ontario schools.
In its decision, Canada's highest court stated that "Religious tolerance is a very important value of Canadian society...By disregarding the right to freedom of religion, and by invoking the safety of the school community without considering the possibility of a solution that posed little or no risk, the school board made an unreasonable decision."
For more information on the Commission’s policies and work, please visit the Commission website.
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Sr. Communications Officer
Communications and Issues Management
Senior Policy Analyst
Policy Education, Monitoring and Outreach Branch (PEMO)
Ontario Human Rights Commission