U.S. Apologizes After Sikh Canadian Minister is Asked to Remove Turban at Airport

Canadian Minister of Innovation Navdeep Bains said that the American security agents were “very insistent and very difficult” and made him feel “uncomfortable.”


The United States government has sent in an apology after the Canadian government filed a diplomatic protest on behalf of Canadian Minister of Innovation Navdeep Bains, who was stopped at a checkpoint at the Detroit airport and asked to remove his turban last year, the minister’s office was quoted as saying on May 10 by AFP. The U.S. government also ordered Detroit airport security staff to go through further training.

“We regret the screening experience did not meet the expectations of Mr Bains,” U.S. Transportation and Security Administration (TSA) spokesman Michael McCarthy was quoted as saying by CNN. “Upon review of airport closed-circuit video, we determined that the officer conducting the screening did not follow standard operating procedures and therefore received additional training.

“All persons wearing head coverings may be subject to additional security screening, which may include an officer-conducted or self-conducted pat-down. 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,” the statement further said.

The incident happened last year in April, when Bains was heading back to Canada from Detroit after meeting Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and other officials. The security agents at the airport insisted that he remove his turban for inspection after he had already been through the metal detector and secondary screening tests. In the secondary swab test, the agent read a false positive and asked the minister to remove the turban, CBC News reported.

“I was asked to remove my turban, they did another test and I was ultimately allowed to go through,” he was quoted as saying by Global News at G7’s women’s event in Toronto. He added that at no point did he remove his headwear, the publication reported.

Bains’ spokesman Karl Sasseville told the AFP that the minister did not reveal his government position at first to see how things play out for people who are not dignitaries in instances like this. However, after he was allowed through, the security guard caught up with him and asked him to come back for more screening. It was then that Bains pulled out his diplomatic passport and was allowed to board his flight. “I’m about to embark and you tell me to take off my turban. But, by knowing my diplomatic status, you tell me that everything is correct? This is not a satisfactory answer,” the minister told La Presse, Canada’s French language newspaper.

Bains had described the security agents as “very insistent and very difficult” and told La Presse that the experience made him uncomfortable.” Being asked to remove the turban was akin to “being asked to take off my clothes,” he said.

Bains pointed out that for a Sikh, wearing a turban is considered “one of the most dutiful acts for a person of the faith.” He added: “I am proud to represent my community.”

The politician said he chose to talk of the matter publicly because “discrimination happens with many people, and I’m in a very fortunate position to talk about it.”

In 2007, the U.S Transportation Security Administration had passed regulations, which allowed Sikhs to keep their turban during security checks at airports.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said that she felt it was important to voice Ottawa’s concerns about the way Bains was treated in order to “support all Canadians travelling across the border.”

Bains also observed that he was subjected to similar treatment in Antigua after a family vacation last Christmas.

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