The Scottish Kirpan
Why don’t the Scottish just go back where they came from?
Well, come on. It’s a fair question isn’t it? I mean, it’s what Canadian kids were saying about Sikhs when Gurbaj Singh Multani, otherwise known as The Kirpan Kid, was busted for wearing the Sikh ceremonial dagger to school.
Earlier this week a white person was busted by a Montreal cop or two for carrying a concealed weapon. The Scottish call it a sgian-dubh (pronounced skaean-do, or something along those lines), and it’s a ceremonial dagger, usually worn with the blade tucked into a Highlander’s socks and only the hilt exposed. Perhaps in the days of William Wallace (the blue-faced ruffian played by Mel Gibson in Braveheart) it was a weapon, strategically placed in the sock, hilt out, for easy access in close combat. But these days, like the Sikh kirpan, it’s purely ceremonial, part of the traditional dress that includes the kilt, a sporran, which is kind of a like a male purse, since a kilt has no pockets, and other accoutrements of the Highlander.
Well, just the other day a bagpiper named Jeff McCarthy was traipsing along his merry way – I’m not sure if took the high road or the low road – when he was accosted by the police before he reached his destination, Place des Arts, to play at the McGill University Convocation. He was cited for carrying what to the police was nothing more than a concealed weapon, and fined $220.
Back in 2006 we all received an inadvertent education into the Sikh culture when a then-11-year old Gurbaj Singh Multani was horsing around in school, and his ceremonial dagger slipped its bonds. You may recall that the school board initially banned the kirpan. The Multani family fought right up to the highest court in the land until the ban was overturned, but the wearing of the kirpan was suddenly saddled with safety conditions. But the racist rhetoric that spewed forth from the mouths of Quebeckers at the time was appalling, with some of Multani’s fellow students saying horrible things about Sikhs, anti-immigrant things that you know they heard around the dinner table at home.
Newcomers face the too-oft revealed true face of Quebec society every time its fear of the unknown is spurned, and its tolerance of difference stretched to its limits. So why should one of Montreal’s founding cultures be spared?
After centuries of piping at official ceremonies, funerals, and parades, in churches, convocation halls, Parliament, and at Remembrance Day festivities, I cannot imagine what might have possessed a cop to tap his partner on the shoulder, nod toward the piper and say “Hey, check out that guy. In the skirt. I think he’s got a knife.” (I’ll bet our cops’d find a camouflaged kilt to be more comfortable during Montreal’s hot summers, but I digress).
If he chooses to contest the fine in court, Mr. McCarthy would surely have to explain to a blank-faced crowd that a sgian-dubh is kind of like a Scottish kirpan. Sgian-dubh might not register on their faces. But kirpan surely will, thanks to the Kirpan Kid of 2006.
Either that or, if this sets a precedent, the SPVM will have their hands full come next November 11th, and our jails will be filled with the sweet sounds of Scotland The Brave and Amazing Grace.
By: Dan Laxer – mtltimes.ca