Montreal Teen Who Wants To Join Police Force Vows To Fight Religious-Symbols Ban

Written by priyadarshinee

Published on : April 15, 2019 8:12

Sukhman Singh Shergill has always been excited by police cars.

He also collected police badges and notebooks, watched cop shows and told anyone and everyone around him: “I’m going to be a police officer one day.”

Shergill is now 15, and his dream remains the same.

“I love the [idea of] helping the community,” Shergill said. “It’s out of love for people. I love people. I want to make them comfortable.”

He watched with admiration as his older cousin, Gurvinder Singh, blazed a trail in New York City.

As president of the New York Police Department’s Sikh Officers Association, Singh helped lead the charge for the NYPD to change its uniform policy in 2016, allowing officers to wear turbans in place of the traditional police cap.

“He really helped a lot of people. He really helped his community and his religion. All religion,” Shergill said.

Shergill has long envisioned carving out his own place in Montreal history by becoming the first officer to wear a turban in the city’s police force, the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM).

“Since he was born, he’s always wanted to be different, to do something to be remembered,” said his mother, Manpreet Shergill.

The Quebec government’s proposed Bill 21, which would ban public workers in positions of authority, including teachers, lawyers and police officers, from wearing religious symbols, has only strengthened her son’s resolve.

“I’m going to fight it,” said Sherghill, a Grade 9 student at a high school in Montreal’s Pierrefonds neighbourhood.

“I feel targeted by it because I can’t be a police officer anymore, and they’re just destroying my dreams like that,” he said.

Last weekend, he created a new Facebook group — the Quebec Association of Sikhs — and posted a video explaining his opposition in the hope of galvanizing support.

Shergill, however, faces an uphill battle.

Quebec Premier François Legault has said he’d consider compromising on some aspects of the bill — but not the prohibition on police wearing religious symbols.

The issue flared up last year when Sondos Lamrhari, who wears a hijab, came under public scrutiny for her plans to become a police officer. The Coalition Avenir Québec, the Official Opposition at the time, took a hard line.

The position is consistent with the 2008 Bouchard-Taylor report into the accommodation of minorities, which suggested that public workers who exercise the coercive authority of the state, such as police officers and prison guards, be barred from wearing religious garb.

But the authors also acknowledged that “a police force is likely to more readily gain the trust of a diversified population if it is diversified and inclusive.”

In a statement, Montreal police spokesperson Marylou Bossé said the SPVM is closely following the progress of Bill 21 but hasn’t taken a position on religious symbols.

The city’s police union has said it’s in favour of the ban.

In the past, representatives from the SPVM have said the question is only theoretical since no one wearing a hijab or turban has applied to work on the force.

Still, Marvin Rotrand, a Montreal city councillor, has been saying for years that local police need to be more welcoming.

He wrote a letter to the city’s executive committee last year asking that Montreal follow the lead of the RCMP, as well as cities like Edmonton, Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary and Vancouver, in allowing police officers to wear religious clothing and symbols.

Mayor Valérie Plante said at the time she was open to the idea but has yet to take action.

Rotrand said he’s planning to table a motion at next month’s city council meeting urging her to make the change.

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