Bains describes being asked to remove turban by U.S. airport security


TORONTO — Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains says he was asked to remove his turban during an “awkward” incident at a checkpoint in the Detroit airport a year ago and was only allowed to proceed when the security staff realized who he was.

Bains, who was attending a G7 women’s forum in Toronto, spoke out about a number of media reports detailing the incident — and used it as a teachable moment about the prevalence of discrimination and the importance of speaking out about it.

He described how after one initial encounter with overzealous security officials who wanted him to remove his turban, he was allowed to pass — only to be summoned back from the gate because of a problem with a swab test, when he was asked again to remove it.

“I was asked to remove my turban, they did another test and I was ultimately allowed to go through,” he said, adding that at no point did he remove his headwear.

“For me this is really about an incident that occurred that should not have occurred, because I was asked to come back from the gate, back to the security checkpoint, to remove my turban.”

Bains is a Sikh and wearing the turban is mandatory in his religion. And while he was eventually allowed to board once he presented a diplomatic passport and disclosed his position in the government, he said it should not have mattered that he was a cabinet minister.

“It doesn’t matter what your status is, what your position is,” he said. “It’s really about making sure that people are not discriminated against, that people are treated fairly and with respect.”

He recounted his experience to Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, who was in Washington for NAFTA talks Thursday. She said her officials raised the issue with their American counterparts.

The U.S. has since expressed regret and has apologized to Bains.

“My hope is now that I’m talking about this, now this has come to public light, that we can avoid these type of instances going forward,” he said.

The Canadian Press