Rights and Freedoms: multiculturalism and freedom of religion with Gurbaj Singh Multani

Gurbaj Singh Multani_1On January 25th 2018, the Research Chair in Legal Pluralism and Comparative Law will welcome Gurbaj Singh Multani, the young teenager who appealed his case for freedom of religion before the highest tribunal of the country in 2006. In Multani v Commission scolaire Marguerite-Bourgeoys, Multani was defending his right to wear his kirpan at school, while the school board prohibited Multani from wearing it on the ground that it is a weapon.

The school board commission argued that the kirpan—a ceremonial dagger worn by orthodox sikhs to remind them of the importance to fight oppression and injustice—was a weapon that could pose a threat to fellow classmates if put to use. Considering an increase in youth violence, the board considered that it was imperative to eliminate any elements that could be used as a weapon. Multani, represented by Me Julius Grey, pleaded that the kirpan was not a weapon because it was never used with an intention to harm or kill anybody, but rather to remind the Sikhs of the oppression they were subjected to in the past. If the reasoning of the board was to be followed, wearing a kirpan could lead to a criminal offence under the Criminal code.

In 2002, while Multani was only 12 years old, the Superior court of Quebec permitted him to wear his kirpan on the condition that he only wears it under his clothes in a sealed case. In March 2004, the Court of appeal of Québec overruled the decision of the Superior court. The Supreme Court of Canada finally reversed the decision of the Court of appeal, considering that the school board had not succeeded to show that the prohibition minimally impaired Multani’s rights. Given that Multani had to leave his school for that reason, the Court declared the decision prohibiting him from wearing his kirpan to be null.

Gurbaj Singh Multani is invited to discuss his experience of the long judicial process he went through as a teenager and his perspective on the scope and meaning of freedom of religion in Canada with the students of the course Rights and Freedoms.

Faculty of Law, Fauteux 302, at 1pm.

57 Louis-Pasteur Street
Fauteux Hall
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
K1N 6N5