RCMP SGT. BALTEJ SINGH DHILLON RECEIVES WELL-DESERVED STANDING OVATION AT ‘STOP RACISM’ EVENT
By Indira Prahst
Instructor of Race and Ethnic Relations, Department of Sociology, Langara College, Vancouver
RCMP Sgt. Baltej Singh Dhillon, who waged a tenacious fight to become the first Sikh RCMP officer to wear the turban and who has served with the RCMP for 20 years, gave a very powerful and touching talk about his experience at the Stop Racism event to commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Racism.
Dhillon noted: “This is not about Baltej Dhillon, rather it’s a story of an individual that was given a responsibility, a task, if you will. Therefore, I am truly grateful that I was deemed worthy of this challenge.”
Dhillon’s story starts in 1983 when he came to Canada, and, like several immigrants, sought a better life. Dhillon pointed out that he was the first turbaned student in his school and added: “I think a higher power was starting to prepare me for what was coming, and what better place to do that, than in a school, where people go to learn the skills to prepare them for life's challenges.”
In 1988, he applied to the RCMP which led to recommendations to make exceptions to the RCMP uniform to allow members of the Sikh faith to wear their turbans. However, a hard journey followed and what transpired during the process was indeed a challenge for Dhillon.
Dhillon said: “It was a surprise to learn that there was a segment of the public that actually perceived this change to be a threat to Canada and what it meant to be Canadian.
Yet when asked what it meant to be Canadian, many who were quite vocal in describing what was not Canadian, could not explain what it meant to be Canadian!”
Dhillon continued to expose the reaction by some Canadians against the recommendations to wear a turban: “There were pins, calendars, postcards, all designed to do one thing - marginalize one group of people so it would be easier to hate them. Thankfully, there were many who stood up in opposition to this hate mongering and the truth of the matter was revealed that, for a few, this was an opportunity to openly further their racist agendas.”
Dhillon said the police training at the Academy was designed to prepare new police officers for the real world and during that time he received anonymous mail from strangers. He revealed: “Some were encouraging letters, but mostly they were letters and postcards, telling me that what I was doing was wrong and some even threatening my life, telling me that there was a bullet with my name on it, that I was going to be beaten if I ever came to their town, or that it would be dangerous for me to leave the Academy.”
Dhillon shared his story about when he was posted to a small town called Quesnel. Members of the media had arrived in town before him and had already interviewed the public about having a turbaned RCMP officer.
He recounted the horrendous pressures he faced: “And then there were the rumors that came from every corner of the country, that I had cut my hair, quit the RCMP from not being able to handle the pressure, given special privileges in training like not having to participate in swimming, having my own room, accepting a bribe and then being fired from the RCMP only to open a grocery store, being beaten up by a gang of thugs in a bar, getting into several serious accidents and so on. And this was all in my first year apparently.”
Near the end of his speech he said: “All I wanted was to be treated like any of the other members and be judged on my work and not on my appearance. I would be lying if I said to you that there were no instances of racism or discrimination from fellow members, but to the forces credit, they were dealt with expediently and to my satisfaction.”
Today, Dhillon has served in the RCMP for 20 years, He said: “I continue to do my work with the knowledge that I have an important role to play in the way Canada will accept and perceive orthodox Sikhs in the RCMP.”
Dhillon concluded with words of advice for Sikh youth which youth of other faiths can also learn from: “ First, become connected with your roots. Secondly, understand your legacy so that you can leave one behind that is meaningful. Third, be 10 times greater than us, and, fourth, make yourself available as mentors and role models and live up to that commitment.”
Dhillon received a well-deserved standing ovation for his inspiring speech and for having paved the way for Sikhs to wear the turban in the RCMP."
I grew up in that small town called Quesnel. It was a non-issue then. A turban was nothing new to us. The 'kirpan' they're talking about is about as long as a friggin' letter opener.
If you're that worried about it when you go to the Olympics, bring a friggin' taser. This thread is .