Harper Government reverses airport turban screening procedure after The VOICE asked what Tim Uppal was doing about it!

Tim Uppal Photo submitted
Tim Uppal
Photo submitted

“SIKHS being racially profiled thanks to new turban screening procedure at airports. What is Tim Uppal doing?”

That was the heading of our story when the World Sikh Organization put out its press release on Tuesday morning that “it is deeply concerned by recent changes made to the Canadian Air Transport Security Agency’s (CATSA) procedure for screening religious headgear, which came into effect on April 15.” It added: “CATSA procedures now require the mandatory secondary security screening of turbans and other religious headgear.”

The VOICE wrote: “What is Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Multiculturalism Minister Tim Uppal, a turbaned Sikh, doing about this?” in bold type.

The government obviously panicked as the federal election draws closer and the NDP is surging in the polls, threatening Harper’s majority government.

The WSO on Tuesday evening put out another press release titled “WSO welcomes reversal of airport turban screening procedure.”

It said: “The World Sikh Organization of Canada welcomes the reversal of a recently introduced mandatory Explosive Trace Detection turban screening procedure at Canadian airports. Transportation Minister Lisa Raitt made the announcement of the reversal in comments to the CBC late Tuesday evening. Minister of State (Multiculturalism) Tim Uppal also issued a separate statement Tuesday evening.  The new screening procedure, introduced on April 15, is to be cancelled immediately for air travel inside Canada.

“The reversal came hours after a news release put out by the WSO today condemning the policy.

“WSO President, Dr. Amritpal Singh Shergill said, “We are happy to see that the discriminatory policy requiring the mandatory secondary screening of turbans and other religious headgear for explosives has been reversed but we are shocked that such a policy could have been introduced without any consultation or notice in the first place. While the policy has ended for travel within Canada, we will continue to follow up with Transport Canada to ensure that it ends on all flights, as soon as possible.”


EARLIER in the day, the WSO had issued this press release:


THE WSO said it learned of the change from concerned Sikh travelers. Canadian Sikhs were not consulted with respect to the new procedure and no notice or forewarning was provided prior to its implementation.

According to CATSA’s recently updated web page on security screening –www.catsa.gc.ca/breezethrough – both religious and non-religious headgear will be treated in the same manner.  Individuals with headgear will go through the walk through metal detector and regardless of whether there is an alarm or not, will then be required to pat down their own head covering and present their hands for Explosive Trace Detection. If the head covering causes an alarm, a physical search will be required.

According to CATSA’s new procedure, turbaned Sikhs will be subject to compulsory secondary screening, whether they alarm or not.

Prior to this change, turbans and other religious headgear were not subject to mandatory secondary screening.

Individuals wearing non-religious headgear have the option to avoid secondary screening by simply removing their headgear.  That option is not available to Sikhs who wear their religiously required turban.

The WSO said it is unclear as to why religious headgear is being subject to mandatory Explosive Trace Detection. Similar detection is not mandatory for items like shoes, sweaters or for various assistive medical devices. No evidence has been produced to justify the compulsory secondary screening of religious headgear.

Many Canadian Sikh travellers have noticed the effect of these changes and have contacted the WSO.

“Due to my work as a hockey commentator for the past eight years, I have been travelling extensively on a weekly basis.  Recently, however, I have been made to perform a self-patdown for explosive residue each and every time I go through security.  I am not sure why, all of a sudden, this became necessary”, said Hockey Night in Canada in Punjabi’s Harnarayan Singh.

“Since April 15, 2015, I believe I am being racially profiled and targeted as a security threat in Canada because of my faith and my turban.” said Raj Singh Hundal, a Vancouver-based turbaned Canadian Sikh who frequently travels for business between Canada and the US.

“I am being considered a security threat every time I travel for work purposes, even though I am a NEXUS card holder. I was told that CATSA made the changes to align with the TSA in the US, but this policy doesn’t align with the TSA.  From my experiences as a NEXUS traveler, CATSA’s policy goes above and beyond what the TSA does in the US, and I believe it is targeting religious minorities such as turbaned Sikhs” Hundal said.

WSO President Dr. Amritpal Singh Shergill sent a letter to Minister of Transport Lisa Raitt on May 12, 2015, outlining the concerns of the organization. Neither the letter nor subsequent requests to meet have received any response.

Shergill said: “We are deeply concerned by these changes and find it unfortunate that both non-religious and religious headgear are being treated equivalently.  Sikhs in Canada must now expect to be secondarily screened every time they go through airport security- whether they alarm or not.  We feel that this change to CATSA’s screening policy is unnecessary and discriminatory, subjecting Sikh passengers to delay and inconvenience.  We fear that the revised procedure could potentially lead to racial profiling and bias where Sikh passengers are singled out due to their turbans and unjustly perceived as being security risks.”

The WSO has called on Transport Canada to immediately suspend this new headgear screening procedure and revert to the one in use prior to April 15.