Man who won right for Sikhs to wear turbans in Canadian legions dies

Lt.-Col. Pritam Singh Jauhal fought for the British Empire in World War II, and rose to prominence nationally by spearheading a battle to allow Sikhs wearing turbans into Royal Canadian Legions.

Pritam Singh Jauhal gained prominence after he was refused entry to a Surrey legion for wearing a turban

Lt.-Col. Pritam Singh Jouhal as pictured on the cover of his 2013 memoir. Jouhal passed away in Surrey at age 95 this past weekend. (Centre for Indo-Canadian Studies, University of the Fraser Valley)

A prominent figure in the Sikh-Canadian community who fought and won a high profile battle to allow Sikhs wearing turbans into Royal Canadian Legions, has died.

95-year-old Lt.-Col. Pritam Singh Jauhal passed away peacefully in Surrey over the weekend. 

Jauhal fought for the British Empire in World War II, but on Remembrance Day in 1993 he was denied entrance to the Newton Legion in Surrey because of his turban and legion rules forbidding the wearing of hats and headgear.

"They had tried to explain that as soldiers they had fought with their turbans on so this was not something that was unknown to soldiers who had fought in World War II," said Satwinder Bains, director for the centre for Indo-Canadian studies at the University of the Fraser Valley. "But the legion was adamant that they take them off at the door."

"[Jauhal] didn't understand that in the Commonwealth countries, how Canada could even think that people of the Sikh faith, who had fought in wars alongside Canadians and Europeans and people all over the world, could be not allowed into a legion," said Bains.

Jauhal's belief in religious freedom also led him to speak out against the Conservative government's ban on Muslim women covering their faces during citizenship ceremonies. 

Jauhal's memoir, A Soldier Remembers, was published in 2013. 

Bains says Jauhal will be remembered as a kind man who stood up for what he believed in.

"He had that in him, that gentle nature and yet that steel will and determination. This was who he was," said Bains.