Advertisement

Sikh community seeks greater effort from Quebec officials to promote inclusion

Sikhs are asking for dialogue with political leaders in Quebec to allow for more religious accommodation. They want, for example, for the kirpan ceremonial dagger to be allowed into the provincial legislature.
Sikhs are asking for dialogue with political leaders in Quebec to allow for more religious accommodation. They want, for example, for the kirpan ceremonial dagger to be allowed into the provincial legislature. Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press

Members of the Sikh community are calling on the province of Quebec and the City of Montreal to take steps to promote greater inclusion.

The World Sikh Organization of Canada says Montreal and the province lag behind other places when it comes to accommodating the religious needs of its community.

“Sikhs are proud Quebecers, and the community wants to play a greater role serving the province it calls home,” says Mukhbir Singh, president of the organization.

READ MORE: Feds to Quebec soccer: Let kids with turbans play

Singh points out that there are no Sikhs employed in the Montreal or Quebec civil services. For example, neither the Quebec provincial police nor the Montreal police have policies that would allow practising Sikhs who wear turbans on the force. Singh says the impact this and other restrictions on the community are quite profound.

Story continues below advertisement
“Every year, we organize camps where children come together and we talk about what [they] want to do as a future career,” he explains. “It’s heartbreaking when we get a response like, ‘I want to be a police officer in Montreal,’ and you have to tell them that their article of faith is a barrier at this point.”

During a news conference, the World Sikh Organization of Canada requested that leaders of four political parties in Quebec meet with Sikh community leaders to establish a dialogue. The organization also called upon the Montreal and provincial police forces to change dress codes, allowing Sikhs who wear a turban to join, and encouraged provincial and municipal governments to find a way to recruit more Sikhs for public sector positions.

The World Sikh Organization of Canada also called upon government officials to allow the kirpan, a ceremonial dagger worn as an article of faith, inside the provincial legislature. Earlier this year, the province’s top court upheld a ban on the dagger in the national assembly.

READ MORE: Justin Trudeau weighs in on Quebec legislature kirpan ban, Air India bomber posters

Montreal city Coun. Marvin Rotrand, who accompanied Sikh community members to the news conference, points out that the RCMP and police services in other North American jurisdictions already make provisions for Sikh officers who wear a turban. He also points out that other legislatures allow the kirpan.

Story continues below advertisement

Rotrand thinks one reason for the restrictions in Quebec has to do with the low population of Sikhs in the province compared to other areas.

“(The community) is not well-known,” he tells Global News. “When there’s discussions about immigration and new communities, it usually deals with persons who are Muslim or Jewish and their needs in the community, and Sikhs are virtually unknown.”

Rotrand says this is because the Sikh community is primarily clustered around three Montreal neighbourhoods but is less visible elsewhere in the province.

“What they’re asking for is a dialogue that will demystify them as a community, get people to know who they [are] and what they can do,” Rotrand says.