As some of you may know, I’m a lawyer. I practice criminal law before the courts in Yukon Territory in Canada. In Canada, we have a great deal of protection for religious freedom built into our Constitution, via our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (though lately the Government of Quebec is trying to test the boundaries of freedom of religion).
While I was learning about Sikhi and when I made the decision to convert, I wasn’t worried about how my legal rights in my own country would change. Legally, they would not change at all. You see, according to our law, our religion as Canadians is a personal choice and how we practice our religion within reasonable limits designed to ensure we’re not causing harm to others, is also a personal choice. The law is squarely on my side.
I’m not naive though and I know that the law on the books is not always practised in a way which accords with the spirit of that law (ahem… Quebec – time to act like grown and free adults). Racism still happens in this country (much more than I would like to believe), people can be jerks and sometimes people can do things that ignore or twist the law.
So while I wasn’t worried about my legal rights and privileges, I did spend some time considering what other people would think or say to me. I took my time, choosing who to tell and when. I haven’t been afraid to tell anybody but I wasn’t exactly ready to deal with all the misconceptions and the haters all at once. I was also, albeit briefly, concerned about being mistaken for Muslim if I covered by hair. Not that being mistaken for Muslim is concerning to me but Muslims are often mistaken for terrorists (a gross misconception) and violence is directed at them. How would I deal with that if it happened?
I also knew that Sikhi is not a common religion where I live and that there would be lots of questions – of the curious, non-offensive, this-is-how-we-learn-about-one-another kind. I wanted to be well educated before I was put in a position of answering questions.
This week was my first week back in court after my decision to begin wearing four of the five articles of faith, including covering my head and wearing kara on both arms. What a week it’s been!
After a bit of a fumbly notice on my part my boss, an incredibly wise and humane man, helped me educate the court staff and staff in our office about why my head was covered. His wise suggestions that I offer some educational, non-personal information about Sikhi helped with what has been the most amazing acceptance. By that I don’t mean that people where standing up in ovation. What I mean is, everyone with only a few exceptions, has treated me EXACTLY THE SAME as before. I’ve even had some encouraging remarks and really good questions. It’s just been wonderfully, perfectly, a non-issue. It’s been such a positive experience, for the most part, that my faith in humanity has been restored to record levels.
With few exceptions, which I’ll talk about in a later post, the transition has gone smoothly and without any ignorance, racism or hate whatsoever.
I am the first practising lawyer in Yukon who is also a practising Sikh. I recognize in that, that my actions and reactions will set the tone for all who come after me. I’m so glad that with my boss’ help, I was able to make the experience a positive one.
I know that I face a different world outside of the court room, outside of my community of friends and outside of my work. The haters have already begun to appear but it’s just amazing, heart-warming and reassuring that I can go to work in my office and in the Courts and I can come home to my friends and I don’t have to steel myself for ignorance and hate.
The light of Waheguru has really shone in others this week and has just filled my heart to overflowing.
Waheguru ji ka Khalsa
Waheguru ji ki Fateh