Proposed police uniform changes for Sikhs, Muslims set off alarm bells in Quebec

Suggestions that Montreal Police should change its uniform to accommodate Sikh and Muslim officers have stoked the embers of a fiery debate in Quebec.

Montreal politician Marvin Rotrand is urging the city to allow Sikh cops to wear turbans and Muslim officers to wear hijabs while on duty in order to attract more diverse recruits and build a force that better reflects the population it serves. He received an unexpected boost this week.

Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante said, “It’s something we have to think about.We know that other Canadian cities have done it so I’m very open to the proposition.”

Plante’s comments were only a passive endorsement. Though most big-city police forces, the RCMP and the Canadian Armed Forces have already adopted inclusive uniform policies, she has not set any actual change in motion in Montreal.

A spokesperson for the mayor said the decision is up to the police force to make.

But with a fall election on the horizon in Quebec, she has kicked off a conversation about what agents of the state can and cannot wear while exercising their duties. The subject could haunt the province for months to come.

Already, Coalition Avenir Québec leader François Legault—the political frontrunner in early opinion polls—is staking out a position against police-uniform changes and promises to make it a ballot-box issue on Oct. 1, 2018.

“The police must not wear religious symbols. Like judges, prosecutors and prison guards, the police represent the state,” he wrote on Twitter Wednesday. “It’s time to resolve this question in a responsible manner once and for all. Can’t wait for the 1st of October!”

Montreal Police spokesperson Ian Lafrenière said the question of uniform changes is “hypothetical” at least for the moment because changes have never been requested and therefore never been discussed.

Toronto police spokesperson Const. Jenniferjit Sidhu, who is Sikh and worked for five years as the force’s liaison officer with the Muslim community, said that Toronto came out with a regulation hijab in 2011, although she knows of only one auxilliary officer who wears it.