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This man help to bring Sikh Police officer
with turban in RCMP

February 1, 2003

Manjit, though not an RCMP officer, donned the uniform to show how a turban looked with the police gear.

NRI Manjit Singh and a lady officer in RCMP livery.

ONE of the most famous of Canadian sayings is, "the Mounties always get their man!" It reflects their dedication towards duty and the tenacity, efficiency, competence and justice that is synonymous with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), affectionately and respectfully known as the Mounties. There can be no prouder police force. Their red serge tunic with that hair-raising, blood-curdling red represents Canada.

The following story has a slight twist. The Mounties did get their man but before that came about, this man got his Mountie!

And the man who got his Mountie was Manjit Singh. Manjit came to Canada in 1960 as student. He got a university degree and stayed on to get immigration status. He worked in various companies in Toronto and Montreal and it was in 1986 when he was in a senior management position with Air Canada that he received a call from Ottawa from the Minister in charge of the Treasury Board.

They were setting up an advisory group to advise the minister on hiring people belonging to visible minorities (Sikhs, Chinese, Japanese and Blacks amongst others) for the Federal Public Service and Crown Corporations. This was part of a package programme to implement "employment equality" in Canada.

Manjit was on the committee for visible minorities, which was set up to advise the minister on recruitment, promotions and also what changes were required to be made in the policies of the government so that the target groups could be represented in the government services.

"As a result of our study it was found that though the visible minorities formed 11 per cent of Canada’s population, only 1 per cent were represented in the civil service. It was a very disproportionate number. The visible minorities now form about 18 per cent of Canada.

"In 1988, the RCMP being a federal agency realised that it needed to increase the representation of visible minorities. In 1985, after the crash of Air India’s Kanishka, when the RCMP launched its investigations into the crash, it realised that it had no one who spoke Punjabi and could talk to the expatriate Sikh community — and there are about half a million Sikhs in Canada.

"The RCMP realised that it was not in step with the changing demographics of the country. The RCMP came up with a philosophy of community policing, so it decided to start hiring people from different countries," explains Manjit Singh.

In 1988, the Commissioner of the RCMP appreciating the work Manjit Singh was doing for the Treasury Board and him to assist the RCMP.

The RCMP had asked various communities to give their views about recruitment of visible minorities. Manjit’s role was to give the point of view of Sikh Canadians.

"This was done with my company’s permission. The President of Air Canada was only too pleased to allow me to do this work. It was a feather in Air Canada’s cap to have one of their employees assist the Federal government, the Treasury Board and the RCMP. That’s how I started working with the RCMP," says Manjit Singh.

Very soon the Commissioner of the RCMP decided that he would allow turbaned Sikhs to serve in the RCMP.

The RCMP went through its hiring and training manuals to learn if the induction of turbaned Sikhs would cause any systematic barriers. "For a number of years, I assisted RCMP officers and pointed out what policies and manuals were required to be modified to ensure that a turbaned Sikh officer could serve without any difficulty. So it was in 1990 that the first turbaned cadet entered the RCMP academy in Regina, Sasketchwan in mid-west Canada. Again, I was asked to go to the academy and assist the instructors. They had never dealt with a Sikh and they were a little nervous. I held a seminar with the instructors, including the commanding officer of the academy. I told them about Sikhs. Prior to that I was asked to meet Baltej Singh Dhillon. The first Sikh recruit to join the RCMP, Baltej is from Malaysia. I met Baltej along with a supervisor from the RCMP. There were a number of issues to be discussed and sorted out like diet, uniform and, of course, the turban. For example, every Mountie is required to be able to swim. The RCMP wanted to know how a Sikh would swim with a turban. It was decided that he would wear a rubber cap. Also it was agreed that during training, he would wear a patka. I had to describe what a patka was."

This meant a change from the Stetson hat to a turban. "That was a very big issue," said Manjit. "Suddenly there was a backlash from the conservative elements in the Canadian society. They feared that the immigrants would take away the sanctity of the RCMP. The veterans of the RCMP were the most concerned. They raised a petition with a quarter of a million signatures, opposing the decision. Not only that, the veterans sued the Commissioner. The case went to the federal court and this meant that the Queen was being sued. So the Department of Justice put together a legal defence team and once again I was asked to help. The defence team needed to know more about Sikhism. And once the hearing started, I was asked to be a crown witness. So I spent 10 days in Calgary, where the hearing was held, with a team of lawyers and the Deputy Commissioner of the RCMP. I was called to the witness stand to explain how I had helped the Commissioner in facilitating the integration of turbaned Sikhs into the RCMP. The end result was that the court maintained that the government had the authority to implement changes and a turbaned Sikh officer could serve in the RCMP."

The Solicitor-General, however, told the Commissioner, "I want to see what a Sikh will look like in RCMP uniform!" Once again Manjit’s help was sought. The Commissioner called him to his office in Ottawa. Manjit modelled the RCMP uniform comprising the red serge coat, breeches, boots and the turban, for the Solicitor General. The rest, as they say, is history!

There is a corollary to this exercise. Up to this time the women RCMP officers wore the red serge coat, Stetson hat and a skirt. Around the same time when the turban was introduced into the RCMP, the dress code for women officers also changed to breeches. When Manjit modelled the turban, a lady officer modelled the breeches and the boots.

Manjit Singh was associated with the RCMP from 1988 to 1994.

The story, however, does not end here. A couple of months ago, Manjit Singh got a phone call from Los Angeles. It was the Sheriff’s Office of L.A. County. The Sheriff had decided that in view of the large number of different ethnic and religious groups in southern California, it was about time that the Sheriff’s office represented these communities. He was going to have turbaned Sikhs. "They asked me for help. Of course, Baltej Dhillon was also asked for his experience and views."

This year, the first turbaned Sikh will go for training in the Sheriff’s department in Los Angeles County. (The Tribune)

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