As he readies for new role, 1st Mountie to wear turban reflects on RCMP career

Thoughtful reflections of a trailblazer:

Baltej Dhillon has kept a scrapbook during his nearly three-decade career with the RCMP.

There are photos of him standing proudly in the red serge in the early 1990s, the iconic Stetson hat replaced by a tan turban. There are newspaper clippings — both positive and negative. And there’s a schoolyard poem, filled with nearly every ignorant stereotype about Sikhs one could imagine.

“I’ll dress up in my coat of red / And wear my laundry on my head,” part of the poem reads. “It’s much better, they’ll decide / If we ride camels in the musical ride.”

It was written by a child and shared around the schoolyard, but it’s a dark reminder of some of the attitudes the trailblazing officer has faced over the years.

This week, Dhillon, 53, retired from the RCMP after a career that saw him rise to the rank of inspector, as he took part in high-profile cases, including the investigations into serial killer Robert Pickton and the Air India bombing.

“When I first got involved in the Air India task force, I wasn’t trusted. I wasn’t included in some of the meetings,” said Dhillon. “I was told that it was because there was concern that I might compromise the file.”

That mistrust is something Dhillon experienced before he ever donned the red tunic.

Born in Malaysia, a teenage Dhillion and his family moved to British Columbia in 1983. After high school, he studied criminology and initially wanted to be a lawyer. But he sought to become a Mountie after volunteering with the RCMP as a translator for Asian immigrants.

Dhillon formally applied to the force in 1988 and passed all the entrance requirements. But at the time, the RCMP dress code banned both turbans and beards — key components of his Sikh faith.

A CBC News story from 1989 shows a spandex-clad Dhillon exercising, as he waits for the regulations to change, allowing him to serve with a uniform that doesn’t clash with his religion.

A petition calling for the exclusion of turbans in the RCMP circulated at the time, with thousands of signatures. A Calgary businessman had pins made that clearly express opposition to turbaned Mounties.

In 1989, Baltej Dhillon, 23, had passed the tests required to begin training as an RCMP officer, but his refusal to stop wearing a turban, an article of faith for Sikh men, kept him on the sidelines. 1:54

But the young prospect had supporters, including mentors and the RCMP commissioner, and the regulations were ultimately changed to allow Mounties to serve with a beard and turban.

“The RCMP commissioner came face to face with the Charter of Rights [and Freedoms] in Canada, which clearly states that one cannot be discriminated for practising their faith,” said Dhillon.

When he went for training in Regina, Dhillon said other members of his troop were cordial. But the first time he entered the mess hall, the room fell completely silent.

“When I walked in, there were 1,200 eyes looking at me … it was very intimidating,” he recalled.

The young constable’s first assignment was in Quesnel, B.C., where he was greeted with a large plywood sign that said, “Welcome to Quesnel, Turbocop.” Dhillon decided to assume it was a welcoming message.

But he soon learned that his partner had told other officers that he wouldn’t back Dhillon up, because he was wearing a turban.

“All you’ve got is your partner, and if your partner’s saying, ‘I’m not backing you up,’ well, there goes your lifeline,” said Dhillon, adding that his staff sergeant soon took care of the situation.

For seven years, Dhillon was the only Mountie to wear a turban, until another Sikh man was posted in Burnaby, B.C., in the late 1990s.

“It was incredible … I certainly picked up the phone right away and shared with him my excitement and glee of seeing him in the ranks,” he said.

While Dhillon is leaving the RCMP, he’s not leaving law enforcement. He’s beginning a new role with the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit of British Columbia, an integrated police agency focused on gang activity.

As he looks back on his career as a Mountie, Dhillon chooses to focus on the service he provided for the communities where he worked — not the death threats he received in the mail from across the country.

Diversity is now more visible in the RCMP and, according to Dhillon, the racism isn’t as prevalent — either inside the force or in the broader community. But it certainly hasn’t disappeared.

“Racism exists in our country,” Dhillon said. “It takes a toll on all of us.… It takes energy away from being better Canadians, being better citizens, being better neighbours and working toward something more for our children and our future.”

Source: As he readies for new role, 1st Mountie to wear turban reflects on RCMP career

Government removes all mention of ‘Sunni’ and ‘Shia’ extremism from terrorism threat report


The government has again revised a report that is supposed to update Canadians on the major terrorist threats they face, removing all references to Islamist extremism.

While the report, first released in December, had initially identified attackers “inspired by violent Sunni Islamist ideology” as the main terrorist threat to Canada, that line has now been cut.

All mentions of “Sunni” and “Shia” extremism were also taken out of the annual report, along with section headings on both types of terrorism.

The so-called Islamic State, Al Qaeda and their regional affiliates use terrorism to promote their versions of Sunni Islamist extremist ideology, while Hezbollah is a Shia extremist group.

But Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale told reporters Thursday he wanted the terrorist threat report to use language that “did not impugn or condemn an entire religion.”

“The issue here are people who engage in terrorist activity that actually defies the precept of their religion, so to allow their deviant behavior to be a criticism of a total religion or a total culture is just wrong,” he said.

“The idea, the objective here is to get language which is precise, which focuses on the issue that is being reported on in a clear and accurate way that does not impugn an entire community or an entire religion that is not responsible for the terrorist behavior.”

The government had already cut the term “Sikh extremism” from the report following complaints. A section heading on violence linked to the fight for an independent Sikh homeland is now gone.

The latest change was announced on Twitter and Facebook by Liberal MP Ruby Sahota, who wrote that she had worked with Goodale to “remove language” from the report.

The report no longer contains the terms ‘Sikh,’ ‘Shia,’ and ‘Sunni,’” she wrote. “Words matter. Our agencies and departments must never equate any one community or entire religions with extremism.”

But in a blog post Wednesday, former Canadian Security Intelligence Service analyst Phil Gurski likened the government’s repeated second-guessing of the report to a comedy routine.

“To my mind this is just political correctness and electioneering gone mad,” wrote Gurski, who also worked at Public Safety Canada, which produced the threat report.

“The inability to call a threat what it is makes it harder to identify and neutralize it.”

After the report prompted complaints, Goodale said he was confident it was “never intended to encompass or malign entire religions.”

He said he had asked officials to review the terminology “and make the appropriate changes to the language used throughout the government to describe extremism.”

The latest revision of the report contains no references to religions with the exception of terrorist group names such as ISIS and the International Sikh Youth Federation.

Conservative MP Pierre Paul-Hus accused the government of playing politics and said he did not understand why it would “just erase this information critical for the security of Canada.”

Despite cutting references to Sikh, Sunni and Shia extremism from the annual report, Public Safety Canada continues to use the terms in its online list of outlawed terrorist groups.

Asked how the descriptions maligned communities, Goodale’s spokesperson Scott Bardsley said: “The impact of these terms may not be readily apparent to some who come from places of privilege, who seldom experience judgment based on skin colour or religion alone.”

Source: Government removes all mention of ‘Sunni’ and ‘Shia’ extremism from terrorism threat report

Sikhs denied exemption from Ontario’s motorcycle helmet law | Toronto Star

Good decision, not without courage given support in all party caucuses for the exemption, that other provinces have provided and exemption, and the importance of the Sikh vote in a number of ridings (but expect that most Sikh voters are not single issue voters).

Riding a motorcycle is a choice, not a right. While accommodation for turbans and other head (but not face) coverings is appropriate in most settings,  it is not for this one.

Motorcycle-riding Sikhs in Ontario will not be exempted from the province’s helmet law, Premier Kathleen Wynne has decided.The Canadian Sikh Association says it received a letter last week from Wynne stating the Liberal government, for safety reasons, will not allow Sikh motorcycle riders to wear only turbans as British Columbia and Manitoba currently allow.

“After careful deliberation, we have determined that we will not grant this type of exemption as it would pose a road safety risk. Ultimately, the safety of Ontarians is my utmost priority, and I cannot justify setting that concern aside on this issue,” Wynne said in her letter dated Aug. 14.

Wynne said safety trumps religious freedoms in this case.“As you know, the issue of balance between religious accommodation and public safety has been considered by the courts in Ontario which, on this issue, have found that Ontario’s mandatory helmet law does not infringe on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, nor the Ontario Human Rights Code,” she said.

The Ontario Highway Traffic Act requires all motorcyclists to wear a helmet. This poses a problem for Sikhs, whose turbans don’t fit under most helmets.

Sikhs denied exemption from Ontario’s motorcycle helmet law | Toronto Star.

Anti-immigration flyers single out Sikh community in Brampton | Toronto Star

Don’t they always state this:

Dan Murray, a spokesperson and co-founder of Immigration Watch, confirmed to the Star that the group produced the flyers but insisted that its message is reasonable and not racist.

“The purpose of the flyer is to say there is a cultural limit to the number of people any part of Canada could accept,” he said from British Columbia, where the group was founded in the late 1990s. He said the group has “tens of thousands” of followers who subscribe to its online newsletters.

Canada has been taking in 250,000 immigrants a year for two decades, but Ottawa has never provided justification for that policy, he said.

Murray said the group’s Brampton members had distributed the same flyers several months ago and placed hundreds this week. The photo showing Sikhs was used because they make up “the majority of the population in Brampton,” he noted.

Murray characterized people who criticize the flyer’s message as offensive and racist as “cowards.”

“For long-term Canadians to say that, they are cowards. They are trying to be politically correct,” Murray said. “They are afraid to express criticisms over our immigration because they are conditioned to respond to immigration only in a positive way.”

But definitely a minority view as all political parties support immigration and cultivate relations with ethnic communities. One can have an informed debate about immigration levels but these kinds of pamphlets are similar to the failed PQ strategy on the Charter of Values and identity politics.

Anti-immigration flyers single out Sikh community in Brampton | Toronto Star.

Des sikhs en cour contre l’Assemblée nationale | Le Devoir

The same week the federal government announced the kirpan would be allowed in Canadian embassies and consulates, a reminder that it remains an issue in Quebec, where the Assemblée nationale did not allow Sikh leaders to enter given their insistence on wearing the kirpan. Will be interesting to see if the new Liberal government will address this (non-issue in the Canadian and other provincial parliaments). In the meantime, a court case continues:

En entrevue avec Le Devoir, Balpreet Singh se fait très discret à propos de cette action en justice. « Il y a eu des tentatives pour entamer un dialogue et l’avenue légale en est certainement une que nous avons aussi conservée comme outil dans cette possible lutte »,dit-il pudiquement. M. Singh répète qu’il espère plutôt que la situation se règle par le dialogue. Il fonde en ce sens beaucoup d’espoir sur l’arrivée au pouvoir du libéral Philippe Couillard.

« Nous avons espoir que le dialogue permettra de résoudre cette situation. Nous le sommes particulièrement considérant que le PQ n’était visiblement pas favorable à ceci. Alors, nous avons espoir que nous pourrons expliquer la signification du kirpan au nouveau gouvernement au Québec et entamer le dialogue. »

Des sikhs en cour contre l’Assemblée nationale | Le Devoir.

Christian Rioux of Le Devoir never misses an opportunity to make his position on multiculturalism, this time using a play by Mani Soleymanlou, Un, the story of an Iranian immigrant who lands in Toronto but finally ends up in Quebec.

Le multiculturalisme est probablement ce qui se rapproche le plus au Canada d’une religion profane. Maintenant que notre débat sur la laïcité est ajourné, on apprenait que le Canada allait autoriser le port du kirpan dans ses ambassades. Certains y verront le triomphe d’une laïcité « ouverte ». Mais peut-être devraient-ils s’attarder au libellé de la décision.

En effet, le Canada ne se contente pas d’autoriser les sikhs orthodoxes à porter le kirpan dans ses ambassades à condition qu’il soit placé dans un fourreau fixé à une ceinture portée sous les vêtements. Afin d’éviter que n’importe quel amateur d’armes blanches frappe à la porte en se revendiquant sikh, il a bien fallu fixer des limites. Le règlement précise donc que celui qui porte le kirpan doit être animé par une « croyance religieuse sincère ». Et le Canada de définir ce qu’est un croyant « sincère ». Selon la définition canadienne, le sikh « sincère » est celui qui porte aussi un bracelet de fer, un turban, un peigne à cheveux et un caleçon spécifique. Qu’on se le dise, les amateurs de slips, de boxers et de strings ne franchiront pas le seuil des ambassades canadiennes avec leur kirpan.

Voilà donc un pays prétendument moderne, démocratique et évolué qui s’autorise, par la voix de son ministre d’État au Multiculturalisme, à définir qui est un « croyant sincère » et qui ne l’est pas. Nul doute que, demain, Tim Uppal pourrait décider de la même manière qu’un catholique « sincère » doit se confesser avant de communier et qu’un juif « sincère » doit être circoncis. On ne voit guère ce qui l’en empêcherait….

Si cette décision avait été rendue publique pendant le débat québécois sur la laïcité, elle aurait clarifié beaucoup de choses. Elle aurait notamment montré que l’État ne peut pas être à moitié ou aux trois quarts laïque. Elle aurait rappelé qu’on ne peut pas empiéter sur la laïcité et accorder un privilège à une religion sans aussitôt donner à l’État le droit de s’ingérer dans les croyances personnelles. Il n’y a pas de solution médiane. Ou bien la loi interdisant les armes dans les ambassades s’applique à tous dans l’ignorance des croyances de chacun. Ou bien il faut reconnaître à l’État le pouvoir de distinguer les bons des mauvais croyants. On reparlera ensuite de la liberté de conscience.

L’injonction multiculturelle | Le Devoir.

I don’t see how Christian interprets the practical guidance to Canadian missions on how to apply the policy means the government is deciding the sincerity of a persons beliefs beyond stating that someone who wants to enter a mission with a kirpan should also have the four other Sikh articles of faith. In other words, someone who only shows up with a kirpan but nothing else would not be able to avail themselves of the accommodation.

New Policy Accommodating Sikh Kirpan at Canadian Missions Abroad

Another application of the Supreme Court’s Multani decision (allow Sikh children to carry the kirpan at school). Reasonable accommodation and responding to community concerns. Timing of announcement, of course, is political (on Vaisakhi)

Will be interesting to see if any commentary on this decision outside of Quebec:

Visitors to Canadian missions who declare themselves to be Sikhs will be permitted to retain their kirpans when entering the missions, provided their kirpans are secured within a sheath, attached to a fabric belt and worn under clothing across the torso. They should also be in possession of the four other Sikh articles of faith.

New Policy Accommodating Sikh Kirpan at Canadian Missions Abroad.

Quebec Soccer Federation reverses controversial turban ban – The Globe and Mail

Coming to senses.

Quebec Soccer Federation reverses controversial turban ban – The Globe and Mail.

White liberal guilt | Toronto Sun

Tarek Fatah on excessive accommodation (in this case, the Sikh kirpan).

White liberal guilt | Columnists | Opinion | Toronto Sun.