Turbans and Equality Before the Law

By Dr David Laing Dawson

Driving out of Hamilton this morning I observed a spectacular array of head coverings. Some had, I’m sure, religious significance; others were a celebration of a belated spring morning; some were to ward off the chill; one was a large colourful wrapping more at home in Kenya; some were statements of fashion, others were black flowing fabric extending to the ground, some were signs of teenage affiliation, a couple were those dark knobs of youthful sihkism, and some were that hallmark of anonymity and singularity, the hoodie.

This North America was once referred to as “the new world”, as opposed to the old world steeped in rules of deportment and dress, a hierarchy based on parentage, and years of bloody conflict.

We have done a fair to good job overcoming tribalism and fostering inclusion in Canada.

But that is only one of the significant advancements to which we aspire in this New World.

The others? Equality of opportunity, equality before the law, knowledge and science before superstition, limitations on if not full dissolution of privilege.

The priest sprinkles his (soon to be his or her) holy water on the head of my newest grandchild. But we all know it is just water, H2O, and I would not be allowed to carry a liter of it onto a plane in case it turns out to be flammable or toxic.

I also know I will have to remove my shoes and belt at airport security even though my pants will droop and reveal my SAXX underwear as I stumble through the scanner.

Which brings me to Navdeep Bains. My Google headline news this morning was all about Mr. Bains, a member of Trudeau’s cabinet, being asked to remove his turban before boarding an American plane. Bains reports that he felt “frustrated” and “awkward”. He complained. He also in his comments implied that a man of his position should not be treated this way. All this hit the headlines; the Americans apologized.

That Mr. Bains did not want to remove his turban, that he argued the point, is all well and good, and reasonable whether he won or lost the argument. The rest, the outrage, the apology, the fact it made news based on outrage, risks undermining those equally important aspirations of equality, sanity, and no one given special privilege.

If my SAXX underwear must be exposed so too should Mr. Bains’ hair.

At airport security I and my wife must remove our shoes because one sweaty suicidal young man managed to smuggle plastic explosives in his sneakers. I don’t like it. I am tempted to argue that no one in my demographic has ever been known to bring a bomb onto a plane. We comply and smile.

On the other hand, Mr. Bains, the worst terrorist act in Canadian history was perpetrated by people who wear the same tribal symbol as yourself. So get over it Mr. Bains. This inconvenience is a small price to pay for the privilege of living in a land of equality before the law.

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