“Diversity is Canada’s greatest strength,” says this country’s minister of National Defence.
Harjit Singh Sajjan made the observation in response to an incident last week at the Tignish Legion where a demand was made to a Sikh patron to remove his head covering. The demand was refused for religious reasons and the situation became heated. The two Sikh men who were present, said they were subjected to racist insults.
Sajjan, who is the first Sikh Member of Parliament to serve as Defence Minister, said he was shocked to learn of the incident.
“We are a country that celebrates multiculturalism, and every Canadian has the right to freedom of religion,” he said. “Acts of racism and intolerance run contrary to our shared values of pluralism and acceptance.”
Stephen Gallant, president of the Tignish Legion, says the branch accepts full responsibility for the incident and promises training will be offered to staff to ensure such an incident is not repeated. He indicated staff were not aware that what one of the two men was wearing, since described as a patka or small turban, was considered a religious head covering. He acknowledges headwear worn for religious reasons is exempt from a policy which requires patrons to remove headwear upon entering the premises. He said the branch policy is consistent with legion policy across the country.
Gallant has promised a personal apology on behalf of himself, the staff and membership of the branch.
Sajjan said he recalls being inspired in 1993 by Second World War Veteran, Pritam Singh Jauhal, who defended the right of Sikh Canadians in the Royal Canadian Legion after he was refused entry for wearing a turban. “It is unfortunate that more than two decades later, similar discriminatory acts are still taking place,” he said.
Though heartened by the apology Gallant is providing, Sajjan said the incident “is a a reminder of how we must continue to work together to build a more open and accepting society.”
Sikh Canadians, Sajjan pointed out, have a long and proud history serving in the Canadian Armed Forces. “Sikhs bravely fought during both World Wars while proudly wearing their turbans”.
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