WSO disappointed at Supreme Court of Canada’s decision to deny leave to appeal ‘Singh v. A.G. Quebec’

WSO President Mukhbir Singh.
WSO President Mukhbir Singh.

THE World Sikh Organization of Canada said on Thursday that it is deeply disappointed by the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada to deny leave to appeal in the case ‘Singh, et al. v. Attorney General of Quebec.’

In January of 2011, the appellants in the case, Harminder Kaur and Balpreet Singh were part of a WSO delegation that had been invited to make a presentation at the Quebec National Assembly on on Bill 94 which would deny essential government services, public employment to individuals who wear facial coverings. The WSO’s team was excluded from the hearing before the Committee on Institutions because they were wearing the kirpan. The Sikh faith requires initiated men and women to wear the five Sikh articles of faith, including the kirpan, at all times.

In February 2018, the Quebec Court of Appeal had rejected the WSO’s case on the grounds that the Quebec National Assembly may exclude individuals based on parliamentary privilege. The Superior Court decision below had upheld the authority of the QNA to “exclude kirpans from its precincts as an assertion of parliamentary privilege over the exclusion of strangers.”

The Quebec Court of Appeal decision noted that the court “make[s] no comment whether the assembly’s exercise of the privilege to exclude the kirpan is a wise decision.”

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of Canada released a decision in the case Chagnon v. Syndicat de la fonction publique et parapublique du Québec which developed a new framework for legislatures exercising parliamentary privilege when Charter rights are at stake. The framework developed in Chagnon replaced the framework that was used to decide Singh v. A.G. Quebec.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court of Canada denied the WSO’s leave application to appeal the Quebec Court of Appeal decision.

WSO President Mukhbir Singh said: “We are disappointed by today’s decision to deny leave to appeal in the Singh v. A.G. of Quebec case. While we appreciate that this decision is not so much about the kirpan as it is about parliamentary privilege, we believe that there continues to be a serious violation of freedom of religion by excluding Sikhs who wear the kirpan from the Quebec National Assembly. In Canada, the kirpan is completely prohibited in only two places – prison and the Quebec National Assembly. Excluding an entire religious community from the province’s legislature is deeply troubling.”

He pointed out: “Given the political climate in Quebec with the current government threatening a ban on religious symbols in general, we fear that religious minorities in Quebec risk being marginalized and excluded even further. While we were hopeful that our case would be revisited based on the new framework for parliamentary privilege developed by the Supreme Court of Canada in the recently released Chagnon case, we are reviewing all our options under Canadian and international law.”