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Two Sikh men barred from Winnipeg Dollarama for wearing kirpans

Men have filed a complaint with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission

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Two Sikh men in Winnipeg have filed a complaint with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission after they say they were barred from a business for wearing their kirpans, or ceremonial religious knives.

Harpal Gill says he and his friend and neighbour, Joginder Sidhu, went to a Dollarama store last Thursday, but a woman stopped them at the entrance and told them to take their knives out.

Gill says they tried to explain the kirpan’s religious symbolism, but the woman wouldn’t listen and told a security guard to order the pair out.

The human rights commission will only say that discrimination by landlords, employers and service providers such as restaurants, stores and public facilities that’s based on religion is prohibited.

Winnipeg police say they don’t consider the kirpan a weapon but a religious symbol.

A Dollarama spokeswoman says kirpans are “absolutely allowed” in the stores.

“We are currently following up with store management to better understand what happened and to ensure that our customer service policy, and how it applies to the wearing of kirpans, is well-understood by employees and third party providers,” Lyla Radmanovich said in an email.

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Gill, who is 68, said after living in Canada for 16 years, it was the first time he had been barred from any premises for wearing a kirpan

“How can she be so mean?” he asked. “It hurt my religion’s feelings.”

Sidhu has been in Canada for 10 years and said it was also the first time he had been barred from a place for wearing his kirpan.

“I’m not angry, I’m sad,” he said.

After being barred, Gill and Sidhu visited their MLA, Mohinder Saran, who helped them file the complaint and then visited the store to talk about the kirpan with the person who refused the men’s entry.

“She told me that it is scary, and she is not aware if it is allowed or not,” he said.

Amrik Singh, vice-president of the Sikh Society of Manitoba, said he thinks the store barring Sikhs with kirpans may be just a case of ignorance.

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“Some people don’t know what Sikhism is. It’s a lack of education.”

He also said the society may send a letter to the store, or it may boycott it.

The symbolic knife is one of five articles of faith devout Sikh men are to carry. The kirpan as a religious-freedom issue comes up from time to time across Canada. In 2006, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down a Quebec ban on Sikhs wearing kirpans in school.

Two years ago, the federal government announced it would allow Sikhs to wear the kirpan inside all 270 diplomatic missions across 180 countries, but only if it is “secured within a sheath, attached to a fabric belt, worn across the torso and under clothing prior to entering the mission premises.”

Sikhs are allowed to bring kirpans into parliament buildings but not on flights. The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority says they are among “religious and cultural items” that should be packed in checked luggage.

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