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1990: Sikh Mounties permitted to wear turbans

He's a strong, brave, honest, horseback-riding Canadian in a red tunic who always gets his man. At least, that's the clichéd image of a Mountie. But with a history stretching back to 1873, the real Royal Canadian Mounted Police have always been more complex than their squeaky-clean, steely stereotype.

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When Baltej Singh Dhillon was accepted into the RCMP, he faced a choice -- serving his country or wearing his turban. He chose to fight for his religious rights. In 1990, the federal government finally removes the ban preventing Sikhs in the RCMP from wearing turbans. The decision is not without its protesters, but as Dhillon says in this CBC Television clip, "I'm willing to look these people in the eye and tell them that I'm no different from them."

It was in April 1989 that the RCMP commissioner recommended the prohibition against turbans be lifted. Almost a year later, Solicitor General Pierre Cadieux gives his ruling to allow turbans. During the intervening year, protests had gathered steam. Herman Bittner, who created an unflattering calendar to protest the move, says in an interview, "Am I really a racist, or am I standing up and trying to save something that you know can be lost forever?"
• In 1996, the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed an appeal by three former RCMP officers who were challenging the right for Sikhs to wear turbans while on duty.

• Baltej Dhillon was born and raised in Malaysia. He immigrated to Canada in 1983, when he was 16 years old.

• In 2002, Dhillon was an officer with the RCMP detachment in Surrey, B.C.

• Dhillon was also an investigator with the task force probing into the 1985 Air India bombing.

• The removal of the turban ban was not the first amendment to the RCMP uniform code. The code had been altered in 1974 to accommodate female RCMP officers. They wore the traditional red serge with a skirt and high heels.

• Legal arguments against the turban focused on the harm it might bring to the officer. For instance, he might not receive the proper respect or an assailant might strangle the officer with his own turban.

• In 2001, there were more than 147,000 Sikhs in Canada.

• Sikhism is a religion originating from the Punjab in northern India. It was founded in the 16th century and is ranked as the world's fifth largest religion.

• Sikh men and women usually keep their hair uncut. They also carry a small wooden comb called a khanga, a special steel bracelet (a karra), special long shorts, and a small ceremonial sword called a kirpan.

Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: March 15, 1990
Guest(s): Herman Bittner, Pierre Cadieux, Baltej Singh Dhillon, Daljit Singh Sandhu
Host: Peter Mansbridge
Reporter: Ian Hanomansing
Duration: 2:52

Last updated: September 12, 2013

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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