Bains, a cabinet minister, said he refused to take off his turban after he had already passed through regular security checks
Officials from the Trump administration issued an apology after a security agent at a Detroit airport repeatedly demanded that a Canadian cabinet minister remove his turban, the minister has revealed.
Navdeep Bains, the country’s minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, described the incident in an interview with the French-language paper La Presse on Thursday.
Bains was returning to Toronto after meetings with Michigan state leaders in April 2017 and had already passed through regular security checks, but because he was wearing a turban, a security agent told him that he would have to undergo additional checks, according to La Presse.
“He told me to take off my turban. I asked him why I would have to take off my turban when the metal detector had worked properly,” the minister said. The US amended its travel policy in 2007, allowing Sikhs to keep turbans on while passing during the security inspection process.
“It was an uncomfortable experience,” said Bains.
He refused the agent’s request to remove his turban: “I believed that it was an intrusion into my private life … They would never ask me to take off my clothes,” he said. The agent eventually relented.
Bains said that when he travels, he rarely discloses his identity as a cabinet minister, in order to better understand the travel experiences – and frustrations – of people not afforded similar privileges.
When he appeared at his scheduled gate, a second security agent approached him, requesting Bains return to the security checkpoint – and again telling him to remove his head-covering.
“He told me: ‘You have to take off your turban.’ I responded politely that it was not a security threat and that I had passed all the security controls. Then he asked for my name and identification. I reluctantly gave him my diplomatic passport.”
It was the moments that followed which most incensed Bains.
“I was speechless … I was at the point of boarding and they asked me to take off my turban. But upon learning of my diplomatic status, they told me that everything is fine. That’s not a satisfactory response.”
The incident prompted foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland to express disappointment to her US counterparts. Both undersecretaries for the homeland security and transportation departments apologized for the incident.
Canada has more Sikh ministers than any other country in the world. In the 2015 election, 20 Sikhs were elected members of parliament and four – Bains, Harjit Sajjan, Amarjeet Sohi and Bardish Chagger – were appointed as federal ministers.
“Unfortunately these types of incidents do occur from time to time to minorities in particular. But it should never become the norm,” Bains said in a statement. “I will continue to promote diversity and inclusion across the country as our government has done since we took office. It is exactly why I ran for office.”