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Sikh Asked to Prove Religion or Remove Turban


The Ottawa Citizen, Jun. 11, 2003

"A Gatineau man is upset he had to remove his turban - offending the tenets of his Sikh religion - to speed up his passport application and arrive in India in time for his mother's funeral. Kuldip Singh, 49, said yesterday the passport office in downtown Gatineau initially refused to accept his turbaned image in a photograph without an official letter confirming his membership in the Sikh religion. Mr. Singh, working on a tight deadline to fly from Canada by Friday, said he tried to quickly get such a letter from his temple, but couldn't reach the right official in the congregation."
" 'I have to get going,' said Mr. Singh. 'I don't have 24 hours to wait.' Worried he would miss his mother's funeral on Jun. 17 in the Punjab region, he decided to remove his turban and hurry to a passport photo shop yesterday. He then rushed his application to the passport office. In the interim, however, he had to cancel a tentative booking on a discounted flight for $1,700. The new booking, he says, will cost him an extra $1,600. Mr. Singh said he arrived in Canada in 1975 and became a citizen in 1982. He said he didn't have to provide proof of religion to get his first passport, which had expired. 'It's just a visible minority they're trying to hassle.' He also added that he's wearing his turban on photographs on his health card and driver's licence. 'The turban is worn all the time. It's part of our religion. This is ridiculous.' "
"He finds it ironic that Heritage Minister Sheila Copps visited his south-end temple earlier this month, singing the praises of Canada's multicultural diversity. 'Sheila Copps came to the gurdwara, the Sikh temple, last Sunday and she was talking about visible minorities and equal rights and multiculturalism. This is all baloney.' Suzanne Meunier, a spokeswoman for the passport office, an agency of the Department of Foreign Affairs, says the rules for headgear in photographs have not changed for several years. Normally, the office does not accept any kind of head-covering in submitted photos. However, it will make allowance on religious grounds. 'If it's proven and clear that a person belongs to a religious faith, and he has to wear his turban, then we would make an exception,' said Ms. Meunier. 'It's standard procedure to ask for confirmation.' The important thing, added Ms. Meunier, is a clear view of the facial features, from the eyebrows down."
"Sikhs have fought many battles over the wearing of turbans in Canada. In 1990, there was a national debate over whether a turban could be worn by a Sikh R.C.M.P. officer in place of the traditional dress hat. The federal government eventually relented, but not before a heated discussion about the conflict between national symbols and religious freedom. In 1994, the issue flared again when some branches of the Royal Canadian Legion refused to admit patrons wearing any kind of head covering, because the removal of hats is considered a sign of respect for Canada's war dead. The defence minister of the day, David Collenette, went so far as to vow to boycott any legion halls that refuse admittance to Sikhs or Jews wearing religious head coverings."