British Columbia

Turban ripped off devout Sikh man by RCMP officer, alleges civil suit

A Sikh man arrested in Surrey alleges an RCMP officer ripped off his turban for no reason, insulting his religious beliefs.

'Forceful' removal of the turban, hair pulling 'insulting to the plaintiff's religious beliefs,' says lawyer

An Abbotsford software programmer and devout Sikh is suing the RCMP over an incident involving his turban being removed while he was under arrest in Surrey. (Shutterstock)

In a civil claim filed with B.C. Supreme Court, Kanwaljit Singh says that an RCMP officer ripped off his turban and threw it on a booking desk during his arrest for an unspecified reason two years ago at a Surrey RCMP detachment.

The Abbotsford software programmer's lawsuit alleges that he was the only prisoner in a booking area of the Surrey detachment June 30, 2017, and he faced a semi-circle of about four or five officers when one moved toward him and ripped his turban off his head.

Singh's statement of claim says "suddenly without provocation or justification" an officer he understood to be Sgt. Brian Blair "approached the plaintiff and ripped the turban off of his head," then threw the turban onto the booking desk.

After that and despite his compliance, Singh alleges that an unidentified officer grabbed his arms and marched him to a holding cell. During this march the lawsuit alleges that Singh's arm was twisted and his hair was grabbed and his "topknot" was pulled out.

"The plaintiff had styled his hair in a 'topknot' to facilitate the wearing of his turban, and Sgt. Blair pulled his hair out of the topknot," the suit says.

In the filing Singh says he is a devout Sikh who wears a turban as part of his religious practice and a core part of his identity. He claims to have suffered injury to his dignity, loss of self-respect, embarrassment, stress and anxiety. He's seeking damages and a declaration that his charter rights were breached. Singh immigrated to Canada in 2006, according to the claim.

It's unclear what he was arrested for or whether he was charged. His lawyer would only say that information was "irrelevant" to the treatment Singh received. He described his client as in his late 30s.

"The plaintiff was subjected to negative and differential treatment by employees, servants or agents of the defendants on the basis of his race, ethnic origin and/or religion," the lawsuit alleges.

"Sgt. Blair intended his forceful removal of the ... turban and his pulling of ... hair to be insulting to the plaintiff's religious belief," says the claim.

None of the allegations have been proven in court. Neither the attorney general nor the RCMP were available for comment.