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Can a Mountie Be Turbaned?


Time, Nov. 20, 1989

Photo: Baltej Singh Dhillon, the first turbaned Sikh to join the R.C.M.P. after approval was granted on March 15, 1990

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are a much loved national symbol. But a proposal by R.C.M.P. Commissioner Norman Inkster to make their trademark flat- brimmed dress hat optional for Sikh recruits, whose religion demands they wear turbans, is pitting traditionalists against civil rights advocates and the immigrant community.

The R.C.M.P. wants to increase its minority recruits. Less than 1% are members of such non-European groups as Asians and blacks, who constitute 6.3% of the population. The Justice Department has concluded that the hat requirement discourages Sikhs from joining the force and would probably fail a court challenge. But Alberta housewife Dot Miles, 62, a self-described 'caring Canadian,' and her two sisters gathered 150,000 signatures on petitions to retain the dress code, and sympathetic legislators presented the results to Parliament.

Fearing that racism is involved, Sikh leaders point out that turbaned Sikhs served in the British army in two world wars and now work in many Canadian police forces. After seven months' study, the government has still not decided whether the Mounties will get their turbaned men.