MONTREAL: A longtime city councillor does not believe his call for the Montreal police force to allow officers to wear turbans and hijabs will reignite debate over the sensitive issue of reasonable accommodation.
“It’s more touchy in the regions, which are homogenous, but in Montreal where we are heterogeneous, I don’t think there’s a lot of intolerance.”
Rotrand, a city councillor since 1982, noted that Montreal’s force is an anomaly among major Canadian police departments when it comes to turbans and hijabs.
He pointed out the Toronto, Edmonton and Calgary forces as well as the RCMP allow them.
“We don’t want to miss out on talent and it’s a barrier that doesn’t need to exist,” Rotrand said in an interview.
He said any candidate with all the qualifications to become an officer should be hired.
Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante said Tuesday other Canadian cities have done it and that she is “very, very open to this proposition.”
“I have always been in favour of supporting the full participation of all Montrealers in different functions, whether it’s the (Montreal police force) or others,” she told reporters.
Rotrand tried in 2016 to get the police service to allow officers to wear the hijab, but said its response at the time was that it didn’t have a policy.
He said federal Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan served as a police officer in Vancouver and wore a turban.
“He was (also) a distinguished Canadian soldier and he wore his turban,” Rotrand said.
“But had he applied for the Montreal police department, the fact that he wore a turban for religious reasons would have meant that his application could not be processed.”
Rotrand sent a letter in January to Nathalie Goulet, who’s responsible for public security in Montreal, asking that turbans and hijabs become part of the police dress code.
Montreal police Insp. Ian Lafreniere said the question of wearing a hijab has never been raised during recruitment campaigns in ethnic communities.
“This is hypothetical because we have had no requests from a future police officer or an active police officer,” Lafreniere said in an interview Tuesday.
But he cautioned that the main concern is the safety of police officers.
The RCMP, meanwhile, says male officers of Sikh faith have been able to wear the turban as part of their uniform since November 1990.
Female RCMP members who are Muslim have been allowed to wear the hijab since January 2016.
Sgt. Tania Vaughan said in an email the RCMP-issued hijab and turban “have undergone rigorous testing to ensure the design meets the highest standards of officer safety.”
“Since 2013, 11 active Mounties have worn a turban and, to date, one regular member has requested and received approval to wear the hijab,” the email read.
“Tests have demonstrated that the hijab headscarf and turban do not reduce an officer’s effectiveness in the performance of their duties.”
The Ottawa police force has one Sikh officer who wears a turban.
It said in an email its policy allows for religious headwear that has been approved and meets safety standards.
It’s also currently developing a uniform hijab “for any females who may choose to wear one.”