CAMPBELL RIVER, B.C., Canada: The Workers’ Compensation Board’s bid to present Sikhs from wearing their kirpans at WCB offices is an abuse of their right to religious freedom, says New Democrat labor critic Colin Gabelmann.

Gabelmann was commenting on the WCB’s court action to stop Harjit Singh Khun-khun from appealing an earlier WCB decision to the Human Rights Council. Khun-khun was injured in October 1985, and was treated in Royal Columbia Hospital wearing his kirpan. He was later prevented from wearing the religious symbol when he was treated at the WCB’s offices.

“The Board’s actions are an abuse of Sikhs’ rights, and should be a concern to all British Columbians,” said Gabelmann (North Island).

“The Board has stalled for nearly two years, and is now seeking to deny Mr. Khun-khun his right to appeal to the Human Rights Council. No British Columbian should be denied the right to appeal to the B.C. Human Rights Council.

“What goes for the hospitals should also go for the WCB. The kirpan is a Sikh religious symbol and it is astounding that the Board is incapable of appreciating that. No wonder the WCB is perceived as being a non-accountable, unfeeling, out of control bureaucracy”.

Gabelmann says when he raised the kirpan issue in the Legislature on June 18 of this year, Labor Minister Lyall Hanson refused to acknowledge the Sikhs’ concerns. Gabelmann adds the minister, who is responsible for Human Rights and the WCB, has not made sure that the Board act in a more appropriate manner.

“The minister did, however, write in a letter to me last December that the Human Rights Council was the place to go. Now it appears the WCB, with this court action, is telling the minister to get lost!” Gabelmann said.

“Essentially there are three issues here. One is religious freedom, another is the number of legal hoops that visible minorities have to jump through in order to defend their rights, and the third is the unbounded arrogance of the WCB”.

Article extracted from this publication >> January 8, 1988