A little history…

Oct 8, 2015

(Ed note: Inspector Jim Potts is a retired RCMP and OPP commissioned officer, the first Aboriginal promoted to officer rank in the history of the RCMP.  He continues to advise on Aboriginal justice matters. His memory of the struggle around multi-cultural acceptance in police forces is both instructive and cautionary around the present niqab debate. Thanks to Jim, a member of Smart Justice Network, for enlarging our cultural view and our citizenship obligations to one another.  Jim attributes the success of the effort to establish the RCMP policy to a larger internal support at the time. )

 Concerned about what is on the woman’s head or in her head? 

Media tell us Mr. Harper has found the issue to push in Quebec i.e. the niqab.  A little history of the Turban issue in the RCMP…

During the late 1980’s I was promoted to the Commissioned ranks of the RCMP and appointed to serve as Multiculturalism Advisor.   During that time the RCMP were struggling with investigating, perhaps the largest murder in Canadian history, Air India.  At the time the RCMP had only three members who could speak Punjabi, none of whom were investigators. The question then was “Why are there so few Sikh members?” Were there “systemic barriers” we were not aware of?   The Sikh community told us it was because Sikh members were not allowed to wear the Turban.

The RCMP is a National police force, there to serve all Canadians not just the WASP etc   Commissioner of the day, Norm Inkster immediately moved to amend the order of dress and allow the Turban. The doo, doo hit the fan at various levels. Other police agencies were wrestling with this as well.

Amending the dress code required the Minister’s approval. The Minister hesitated.

Then, at the annual Canadian Association of Police Chiefs convention in Moncton, summer 1990, Dalton Camp, a well-known political advisor, rose and addressed the turban issue. He said: Allow the Turban.  During the Wars not one Canadian soldier ever questioned what was on a man’s head when he jumped into the trench beside him to fight, and by the way, Sikhs soldiers were known to be among the best, and most wore their Turbans throughout.  This was followed by the question “Should we be concerned with what’s on a man’s head, or in a man’s head?

Much to chagrin of the core Sgt. Major (whose office by the way, was next to mine at National HQ.) the Turban was soon approved. One morning, during as coffee break of about 20 members the Sgt. Major rose with his coffee cup and proposed this toast to me, he said “From the man who is trying to keep this Force together to Jim Potts, the man who is trying to tear it apart.”  He later came to me and said the toast was only a joke, I replied “Yes, but no one laughed.”  Today there are a handful of members wearing the turban and for the most part serve the Sikh community in southern BC.

Immediately upon approval a FN (First Nations) member in the west asked to be allowed to wear traditional braids for the same reason the Sikh wore the turban, i.e. religious.  The Commissioner approved the braid immediately. Although approved only a handful wear the braids.

Now, are those who are concerned about the niqab concerned about what is on the woman’s head or in her head?

For some that will no doubt raise other questions.  For me it is strictly political BS, much ado, about nothing. There are so many other issues that need immediate attention

Jim Potts


Ottawa Citizen – Katherine May
Bureaucracy baffled by Harper’s niqab stance

In an effort to understand why Stephen Harper is threatening to ban the niqab use by federal civil servants, the union is looking for any actual incidents.  So far, the track record is two asking for the niqab during citizenship ceremonies and none in the civil servants.  http://www.canada.com/life/harper+doubles+down+possible+niqab+public+service/11421214/story.html   Toronto Star: John Cruickshank    The niqab crisis, by the numbers: Cruickshank – Putting the prime minister’s favourite issue in perspective.   http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2015/10/08/the-niqab-crisis-by-the-numbers-cruickshank.html   Toronto Star:  Editorial (Oct. 8, 2015)  Can Stephen Harper stoop any lower on the niqab?  http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/2015/10/07/can-stephen-harper-stoop-any-lower-on-the-niqab-editorial.html

Globe and Mail – Joe Friesen
Prime Minister’s Office ordered halt to refugee processing

In a most unusual, and perhaps a direct violation of the privacy of the refugee process, the Prime Minister’s Office ordered a halt to the processing of Syrian refugees who had already been determined to be refugees by the United Nations and required applicant files for examination and vetting by the PMO political staff.  The ordered halt caused delay in welcoming the Syrians and dried up the available sponsorship candidates.  http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/prime-ministers-office-ordered-halt-to-refugee-processing/article26713562/

John Howard Society Canada
Federal Election 2015: Questions for All Parties on Corrections Issues

Here are John Howard’s 15 national concerns raised with all political parties around the coming election.   http://www.johnhoward.ca/media/jhsc-issues-election-2015.pdf

Washington Post – Sari Horwitz
Justice Department set to free 6,000 prisoners, largest one-time release 

In an effort by the federal prison system to cope better with continuing over-crowding and at once to redress some of the unfairness over long sentences for non-violent drug crimes from the previous twenty to thirty years, the feds are expected to release in excess of 6000 inmates between Oct. 30 and Nov 2.  About 2/3 of those will go to halfway houses or home confinement before moving to supervised release.  Just over 40,000 appear eligible for early release.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/justice-department-about-to-free-6000-prisoners-largest-one-time-release/2015/10/06/961f4c9a-6ba2-11e5-aa5b-f78a98956699_story.html  Related article: BBC (UK) About 6,000 US inmates to be released early  http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-34460443