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Canadian minister told to remove turban

May 11, 2018

A Canadian Cabinet minister and devout Sikh says he was subjected to a discriminatory security check at a US airport in 2017. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's administration lodged a formal complaint with US officials.

Navdeep Bains
Image: picture-alliance/empics/The Canadian Press/D. Kawai

Canadian Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains said airport officials in Detroit subjected him to discriminatory screening for wearing a turban as required by Sikhism.

US authorities have apologized for the incident, which occurred while Bains was returning to Canada after meeting Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and other officials in 2017.

On Thursday, Bains said airport officials had called him for additional screening as he was about to board. The minister's spokesman told the AFP news agency that Bains did not immediately reveal his government position in order to see how things play out for ordinary people in such circumstances. He eventually pulled out his diplomatic passport and authorities allowed him to board his flight without removing his turban.

"I was very frustrated and disappointed that this occurred, but ultimately I was allowed to fly," Bains said on Thursday. "But it was because of who I was — and that should not be the case."

Bains told the French-language La Presse that being asked to remove his turban felt akin to "being asked to take off my clothes." He said authorities had never asked him to take his turban off while traveling in the US before last year. Bains complained to Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, who complained to US officials, who ultimately expressed regret. He has accepted the apology.

'The screening experience'

Mike England, a spokesman for the US's Transportation Security Administration (TSA), said closed-circuit video showed that the officer conducting the screening had not followed standard operating procedures. England added that the agent has since received additional training. "We regret the screening experience did not meet the expectations of Mr. Bains," he wrote in an email to news agencies.

Security, however, could continue to search clothing at will, England said. "All persons wearing head coverings may be subject to additional security screening, which may include an officer-conducted or self-conducted pat down," he said. "TSA does this to ensure that prohibited items or weapons are not concealed beneath any type of clothing and brought onto an aircraft. This policy covers all headwear and is not directed at any one particular item or group. We recognize that passengers may be unable or unwilling to remove items for religious, medical, or other reasons, and should expect to undergo additional screening protocols."

Since 2007, the TSA has allowed Sikhs to keep turbans on when passing through security at airports. In 2016, Aeromexico refused to allow the American Sikh actor Waris Ahluwalia to board a flight from Mexico City to New York because he was wearing a turban.

Six Sikhs were killed when a white extremist shot up their temple in the Midwestern city of Milwaukee in 2012. 

mkg/rc (AFP, AP)

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