Baltej Singh Dhillon
Baltej Singh Dhillon was the first Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer to be allowed to wear a turban.
After graduating from high school, he went on to Kwantlen College to study criminology with hopes of becoming a criminal lawyer. Having been advised to do some volunteer work to improve his chances of getting into law school, he helped the RCMP launch the Block Watch program in his community and was subsequently hired by the force to work on the program.
Recruitment and Controversy
Based on his previous experiences, Dhillon decided that he wanted to join the RCMP. He went to a recruiting office and met all the initial requirements. The recruiting officer raised the delicate issue of the turban. RCMP policy did not allow it, however the issue went to then-Commissioner of the RCMP, Norman Inkster. Inkster sided with Dhillon, and pressure was put on the federal government to change the policy.
Dhillon’s request (and subsequent support from Inkster) created much controversy. Many opposed to the change believed that the stetson was part of the uniform and allowing a turban into such an all-Canadian institution would change the face of a national icon.
Over 150,000 people signed petitions to retain the traditional RCMP dress code, and sympathetic legislators presented the results to Parliament. Conversely, Sikh leaders pointed out that turbaned Sikhs served in the British Army in two World Wars and now work in many Canadian police forces.
On March 15, 1990, the federal Solicitor General, Pierre Cadieux, announced in the House of Commons that the policy was theretofore amended to permit Sikhs to wear the turban while on active duty in the RCMP. Dhillon subsequently entered the RCMP Academy, Depot Division, in Regina, Saskatchewan, as the first turbaned cadet. Dhillon’s career saw him, among other things, work as an investigator with the 1985 Air India bombing task force.