Sikh man gets apology after a P.E.I. Legion told him to remove his turban

A Sikh man says he was asked to remove his turban by staff at the Royal Canadian Legion in Tignish, P.E.I., on Wednesday night and, along with his friend, was subject to racist remarks from patrons.

Staff asked him to remove turban despite national policy allowing religious headwear in all Legions

Jaswinder Singh, right, and Sunny Pannu, centre, say when they went with Annemarie Blanchard, left, to the Legion in Tignish, P.E.I., they were subjected to racist insults from patrons and Singh was asked by staff to remove his turban. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

A Sikh man says he was asked to remove his turban by staff at the Royal Canadian Legion in Tignish, P.E.I., on Wednesday night and, along with his friend, was subject to racist remarks from patrons.

The Legion apologized for the incident on Friday, saying it stemmed from a misunderstanding of what the man was wearing and that staff will be receiving training to prevent something similar from happening in the future.

Jaswinder Singh and Sunny Pannu, who moved to western P.E.I. last February, went to the Legion with their call centre co-worker, Annemarie Blanchard, to play pool.

They said they were told to take off their winter hats once inside, which they did. But about 45 minutes later, after some patrons started raising an issue, a staff member told Singh he had to take off his patka, a type of turban worn by Sikhs. Only one of the men, Singh, was wearing a turban.

Singh, Blanchard and Pannu were at the Legion playing pool when a manager and patrons insisted that Singh remove his head covering.

"I was like no man, it's my religion, and in my religion, I always cover my hair," Singh said. "And I can't do that."

"They told us you have to remove your turban, because this is our rules," Pannu said. "We said, OK we remove our winter hats because we respect your rules, but you should understand our thing also. They said no, it's not about your religion, you have to follow our rules."

Blanchard said she tried standing up for the men but staff refused to listen.

"I went over and said, 'what's going on here?' And they were being asked to remove the headdress," Blanchard said. "I said 'well it's not a hat, it's a headdress. This gentleman wears this for religious reasons, and I don't believe you have any right to remove it.'"

Part of the incident was captured on video, which was shot by Singh on his cellphone and was viewed by CBC News. Singh turned the camera on after he refused to take off his turban. At that point things got heated. A woman who has been identified as the manager, said to Singh, "If you don't stop taping me … cause you know what, I'll rip your headpiece off."

The manager told CBC News on Friday that when she first asked Singh to take off his headpiece, she didn't realize it was a religious head covering. She says she only said what can be heard on the video after the two men got upset and started recording her with the phone.

The video then shows one man at the Legion bar yelling, apparently threatening to fight the two, swearing at them and giving them middle fingers. He yelled, "Take your f--king hat off in the Legion. It's the f--king law here. It's the law."

The Legion in Tignish has a policy banning any non-religious headwear within the premises. (Steve Bruce/CBC )

The Sikh men said they were also subject to racist comments from patrons, such as "go back to your country."

"They were told to leave our Island, they're not welcome here, to go back to their country, that they're not welcome in Canada at all," Blanchard said in an interview. "Outraged, I was absolutely outraged. I was totally ashamed."

As things escalated, Blanchard urged Singh and Pannu to leave and guided them out. The three were closely followed by Legion staff.

Jaswinder Singh says he wants an apology after he was asked to remove his turban at the Legion in Tignish, P.E.I., but refused. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Singh and Pannu said they had not been to the Legion before and that, after their experience on Wednesday, they will not be going back.

"They don't even know about their own Canadian history — there are a lot of Sikh people in the army, they wear the turbans. The defence minister is also Sikh," Pannu said.

"We feel like our rights were violated ... badly," Singh said. "[We] just want somebody to make the local people aware that they should know this type of thing [shouldn't] happen in the future with someone else."

The friends called the RCMP but police told CBC the issue wasn't a police matter and was between the Legion and the patrons.

Tignish Legion apologizes

Stephen Gallant, the president of Tignish Branch No. 6, said the branch's policy is to remove all headwear in the building and patrons at the bar questioned why one of the men was wearing something on his head. He said at the time, the staff did not know it was religious headwear.

"That was the first time ever in the history of this legion that anyone's come in with a religious headdress, and we were caught off guard," Gallant said.

The Legion in Tignish, P.E.I. says religious headwear is allowed within its premises, like all Legions in Canada. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

He added Singh was wearing something that didn't appear to be a turban. Singh described the patka he was wearing as a "small turban."

Gallant acknowledges that the policy of the Royal Canadian Legion is to allow religious headdress inside any Legion. But he said things got heated before it was clear Singh was wearing a turban.

"He was asked by a staff member to remove his headdress, which he didn't. And at that time, he didn't clarify it was a religious headdress," Gallant said. "He was asked again the second time by our manager who had entered the building.  And at that time, he described that it was his religious belief with his headdress, and that he wasn't about to take it off.  And at this time, things escalated a little bit."

Gallant admits they made a mistake in asking for the turban to be removed.

Stephen Gallant, president of the Tignish Royal Canadian Legion, says he apologizes on behalf of staff and members for the incident. (Steve Bruce/CBC News)

"I do fully apologize and I will apologize with these individuals one-on-one and I want to apologize for my members and my staff and the whole Legion at large," Gallant said.

He said the men are welcome back to the Legion and that staff will receive more training.

Singh said he has never been treated that way before in his five years in Canada.

"I'm not angry at anyone, I just want them to have some awareness sessions so they should know what they did was wrong," Singh said, "and this happened to me, I don't want this to happen to anyone else, that's the only concern."

With files from Steve Bruce