British Columbia·FROM THE ARCHIVES

Think Canadians are tolerant of minorities? A look at the past shows otherwise

We Canadians may like to think of ourselves as tolerant — especially compared to our neighbours to the south — but evidence, and history, points to a less pleasant truth.

British Columbia's tumultuous history with Sikhs and turbans in B.C. shows tolerance has had its limits

In 1990, then-Solicitor General Pierre Cadieux announced that Sikh members of the force would finally be allowed to wear turbans on the job. 2:28

We Canadians may like to think of ourselves as tolerant and welcoming of minorities but a recent poll — and history — points to a less pleasant truth. 

A poll released this week suggests instead that most of us want minorities to do more to 'fit in.'

And a look at the not-so-distant past hints that sentiment may have been lingering for decades. 

The video above was originally broadcast in 1990, when then-Solicitor General Pierre Cadieux announced Sikh members of the force would finally be allowed to wear turbans on the job. 

It all started when Vancouverite Baltej Singh Dhillon applied to be an RCMP officer. 

Perhaps not surprisingly, in hindsight, the decision sparked a wave of debate about "Canadian values" and what immigrants and minorities should do to fit it. 

To add additional context to this story, the Canadian Multiculturalism Act had been enacted just two years prior to the decision, in 1988.

The Act states the government's responsibility to "recognize and promote the understanding that multiculturalism reflects the cultural and racial diversity of Canadian society and acknowledges the freedom of all members of Canadian society to preserve, enhance and share their cultural heritage."

Legion upholds ban on hats and headgear

In 1993, a legion in Surrey voted to keep its law banning Sikhs from wearing turbans, in line with a ban on all hats and headgear. 3:25

The RCMP decision was far from the final word on the matter of accommodating Sikhs with turbans. 

In 1993, a legion in Surrey voted overwhelmingly to keep its law banning Sikhs from wearing turbans in its establishment, in line with a ban on all hats and headgear. 

This decision came after a member of Legion 175 had invited Indian Army veterans to take part in Rememberance Day celebrations.

"When you're in Canada you do as Canadians do," said one man coming out of the meeting where the vote took place.

At the time, the secretary to the B.C. legions called the decision "embarrassing" and promised it would be overturned. 

Pritam Singh Jauhal was one of the men denied entrance to the Newton Legion in Surrey because of his turban; he fought and won a high-profile battle to overturn the decision.

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.

He died earlier this year at 95 years old. His memoir, A Soldier Remembers, was published in 2013.