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Queen's University
 

Nijjar

Facts

Nijjar was a practicing Sikh who regularly wore an 11.5" ceremonial dagger called a kirpan, as required by faith. When he travelled by airplane, he wore a 3.5" kirpan in compliance with Transport Canada's "four inch rule".  According to this safety standard, passengers carrying blades less than four inches in length would be permitted to board aircraft in Canada.  Air companies were not obliged by Transport Canada to enforce this rule. Each airline had ultimate responsibility for the safety of its passengers. In April 1996, a security supervisor denied Nijjar permission to board a Canada 3000 flight because he was wearing his 3.5" kirpan. According to Canada 3000 policy, it was prohibited to carry objects more potentially dangerous than on-board eating utensils.  Nijjar filed a complaint with the Canada Human Rights Commission, claiming that he had been the victim of religious discrimination. The Tribunal disagreed with Nijjar, and dismissed his complaint. (Nijjar v. Canada 3000 Airlines Ltd. (1999), 36 C.H.R.R. D/76).

Questions

  1. Does wearing a kirpan constitute a bona fide religious requirement?
  2. Did Nijjar's beliefs prohibit him from complying with the Canada 3000 policy ?
  3. Was the Canada 3000 policy a bona fide requirement ?
  4. Would accommodating Nijjar constitute undue hardship?

Rulings

  1. Yes
  2. No
  3. Yes
  4. Yes

Reasoning

  1. Expert witnesses testified that Khalsa Sikhism is a bona fide religious order, whose code of conduct (the Rahit) requires that its members wear five religious symbols, including a kirpan.
  2. The Rahit does not prescribe the minimum or maximum size for the kirpan, nor does it specify how sharp or pointed it should be.  The Tribunal found that Nijjar's refusal to wear an innocuous kirpan, one that would meet Canada 3000's safety standards, was based a personal preferences, not religious stricture.
  3. The Tribunal found that Canada 3000's policy was rationally connected to the business of flying airplanes; had been adopted in good faith; and was reasonably necessary. It was therefore a bona fide requirement.
  4. Accommodating Nijjar, by implementing the four-inch rule, was found to be unreasonable.  While it was not very likely that this accommodation would result in increased injuries occurring on Canada 3000 flights, the potential seriousness of injuries resulting from being stabbed by a kirpan was very high. Moreover, the extremely high risk of being seriously, if not fatally, injured by a kirpan was compared to the non-existent risk of being seriously, if not fatally, injured by on-board cutlery. Finally, it was determined that "it [was] at least equally possible if not more likely that other passengers could be injured if a kirpan was drawn in the course of a fight" (D/98).  In light of these findings, accommodating Nijjar would constitute undue hardship.

Further information on Religious Dress: Policy on Creed and the Accommodation of Religious Observances, s.7.1

Kingston, Ontario, Canada. K7L 3N6. 613.533.2000