Politics

RCMP allows Muslim women Mounties to wear hijab

New policy aims to better reflect diverse communities and recruit more Muslim officers

Kathleen Harris - CBC News

August 24, 2016

The RCMP has adopted a new policy to allow female Muslim officers to wear the hijab. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

The Mounties have adopted a new uniform policy to allow female Muslim officers to wear the hijab.

Scott Bardsley, spokesman for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, confirmed that RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson recently approved an addition to the uniform policy to allow women officers to wear the head scarf "if they so choose."

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"The Royal Canadian Mounted Police is a progressive and inclusive police service that values and respects persons of all cultural and religious backgrounds," Bardsley said in an email.

Male members of the Sikh faith have been able to wear the turban as part of the RCMP uniform since the early 1990s, he noted.

That right was won by Baltej Singh Dhillon, a young practising Sikh who wanted to become a Mountie but also wanted to wear a turban on the job.

The federal government's decision in 1990 to end the ban and allow him provoked emotional debate and widespread protests across Canada.

Bardsley said the new policy is intended to better reflect diversity in Canadian communities and to encourage more Muslim women to consider the RCMP as a career option.

Special RCMP hijab developed

RCMP Staff Sgt. Julie Gagnon said current policy, which came into effect in January 2016, requires an "exemption" to wear the hijab from the commissioner, the only senior officer permitted to approve faith-based accommodations.

Gagnon said the RCMP developed a hijab for applicants or serving female members of the Islamic faith, reflecting "the diversity of the RCMP's workforce." It underwent rigorous testing to ensure the design meets "the highest standards of officer safety."

She said the RCMP currently has no members requesting to wear the hijab on duty.

The only other religious or cultural item allowed is the turban for male officers.

Toronto, Edmonton police allow

Bardsley said the RCMP will be the third Canadian police force to adopt the hijab policy, behind Toronto and Edmonton police services. Police services across the U.K., Sweden and Norway, and some in U.S. states, have also adopted similar policies.

The National Council of Canadian Muslims applauded the policy change, calling it a "welcome one and a natural evolution for Canadian policing." The advocacy group said three types of headscarves were tested to select one that would not encumber officers and could be easily removed when required. 

"While in 1990 there was initial reluctance to allow Sikh RCMP officers to wear the turban as part of their uniforms, Canadians have since embraced the change and we expect that this will be the same with the decision to allow the hijab, said the council's communications director Amira Elghawaby in a release.

"The Canadian Muslim population is growing and this decision will help reflect the richness and diversity of our country as well as open up career options for minorities."

The military has longstanding policies "to protect and promote the religious or spiritual rights and freedoms of [Canadian Armed Forces] members," including  accommodating religious and spiritual requirements "if militarily practicable."

"The CAF would evaluate a request, taking into account the religious beliefs of the member, and make a decision based on safety and operational considerations," spokesman Daniel Le Bouthillier said in an email.

In past, the policy has allowed members of the Sikh religion to wear a turban, as long as it does not jeopardize operational safety.

Certain conditions

He noted that Lt.-Cmdr. Wafa Dabbagh became the first CAF member to wear the hijab in 1996.

Lt. Commander Wafa Dabbagh became the first female member of the Canadian Armed Forces to wear the hijab in 1996. (Chris Mikula/Postmedia News)

According to the military's dress instructions manual dated 2001, members can wear the hijab with certain conditions.

"For spiritual and religious reasons, members are authorized to wear the hijab, provided that any danger should be avoided when they carry some types of operational gear parts such as gas mask, oxygen mask, combat/vehicle/flying/ construction helmets, diver's mask, etc.," the policy reads. 

"In case of real danger, these members shall modify their hairstyling or hijab, or both, in a way that will allow them to wear the requested gear."

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