Jump to content

Sikh barred entry at Legion Branch 609

Recommended Posts

Sikh barred entry at Legion Branch 609

By The Brampton Guardian

Nov 18, 2005, 14:05


Following Remembrance Day activities, Ravinder Dhaliwal was kept out of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 609 clubroom because of his turban

Royal Canadian Legion branches in Brampton have been forced to change an out-of-date rule, which discriminates against some Sikhs and Orthodox Jews.

Local veterans call it a tradition that they fiercely enforce-- no "headgear" in the Legion clubroom. Head coverings must be removed out of respect for the fallen.

Branch 609 on Queen Street East enforced that rule on Remembrance Day, telling Ravinder Singh Dhaliwal, a 26-year-old Brampton university student, he was the only adult member of the community attending the service who was not allowed in the clubroom.

"It was humiliating," Dhaliwal said of how it made him felt to be singled out. He was pulled aside and told by President Marie Hayden that "headgear" was not allowed in the clubroom, including Dhaliwal's turban.

"It's unfortunate, but it's nothing personal," Hayden told The Guardian. "It's a rule. I wasn't disrespectful. I was very polite." Members of the Legion, a private club, had voted for that rule, she said, and she was just enforcing it.

Members of the community who attended the service were invited inside for refreshments. Dhaliwal, a Canadian born Sikh who only started practicing his religion about three years ago, went inside for a cup of coffee.

'Someone tell him to remove his hat,' Dhaliwal recalled hearing some people in the Legion say as he walked in after the 11 a.m. service in the parking lot.

He said he was shocked at such a policy in a multicultural city like Brampton, and embarrassed. "That's wrong," said Royal Canadian Legion National Command spokesperson Bruce Poulin last week, adding Dhaliwal should not have been barred from the clubroom.

"I'm surprised. I thought this had been resolved many, many years ago," Poulin said.

Branches were notified

Poulin and Ontario Command Executive Director Marlene Lambros told The Guardian the "no headgear" rule was modified eight years ago when all branches across the nation were notified in writing that religious headdress is an exception to the rule.

The presidents of Brampton's branches-- 609 and 15-- both say they were unaware of the change in policy at the upper tier. They said the last they had heard on the issue was in the early 1990s and the decision was left up to the local branches.

Membership of both local branches voted against allowing religious head coverings in their clubrooms and that has been the rule ever since. They feel very strongly about it, according to Hayden and Branch 15 President Jim Labinowicz.

"We have given up enough in Canada and our vets feel this is the last place they can go," Labinowicz said.

The clubroom is the area club members go to have a beer, a cigarette, and talk about the war, Hayden said. They also hold Saturday night bingos in the clubroom. The Legion is considered a private club.

He said members of the Indian Air Force have come to the local Legion two years in a row for Remembrance Day services-- some wearing turbans-- and none complained about the policy that saw them restricted to the community lounge in the Legion hall.

Hayden said the issue will be raised at an upcoming provincial executive committee meeting and Labinowicz said a Zone convention is being held soon, and he will raise the issue there.

"I think they're (Ontario Command) trying to force it on us," he said. "If provincial command says we have to do it, we have to do it... They're going to get some heat on it, I'm sure they will."

The rule exempting religious headdress is in the officers' manual issued to all branches, zone and district commanders. The most recent 2003 manual states:

"...branch bylaws and in-house policies that deny entry to members and guests because of their religious obligation to wear a particular head covering contravene the laws of Canada and section 109.b of the general bylaws."

Section 109.b of the Royal Canadian Legion general bylaws states generally that nothing be done that would "impinge" on the image and operations of the Legion.

The local controversy has prompted the Ontario Command to re-issue a circular to all branches and officers in the province, clarifying that the headgear rule does not apply to religious headdress.

Labinowicz and Hayden both said several other branches do not allow religious headdress, either. A straw poll done by The Guardian of six branches in Toronto and Mississauga showed that they all were aware of the policy, and all allowed religious headdress in their clubrooms.

However, all said they do not have any members who wear a turban, and some indicated they accept the policy reluctantly.

"Some of our patrons don't like it, but they do go along," said the president of Clarkson Branch 582 in Mississauga, who did not want to be identified. "We're tolerant here."

"We have to," said John Abbott, a long-time member of the East Toronto Branch. "It's policy right now. Any religion, we allow." "It's okay with me," said a member of the Toronto Beaches Branch, although he said it has never been an issue at his branch.

Rule change won't be embraced

The experience has left Dhaliwal skeptical about the reception any Legion branch would give to anyone wearing a turban, despite their stated policies. And locally, he agrees policies can change, but attitudes won't unless a group larger than just himself decides to push the issue.

"But you don't want to push to be a member somewhere where you are going to be excluded," he said. Labinowicz acknowledged some members will not embrace the rule change at Branch 15.

Hayden agreed the same situation would exist at Branch 609.

"They just have to accept it," Hayden said.

"A lot of policies have to change, at the Legion and other clubs. I have been trying to change a lot of old rulings and it's hard. The vets just don't want to change," she said.

Both Dhaliwal's grandfathers were Second World War veterans, he donates to the Poppy Campaign, and when he was a youngster in the Boy Scouts, he won an essay-writing contest with his heartfelt words about the importance of Remembrance Day.

"I got a certificate. I'll probably send it back," he said.

He went to the Remembrance Day service to pay his respects.

"I think it's too bad. It shouldn't happen," said Amarjit Mann, a spokesperson for the Ontario Gurdwara Committee, an association representing several temples. He said he hadn't heard of any other similar situations.

Dhaliwal said the Legions emphasize their veterans are aging and dying, and soon it will be left up to the younger members of the community to carry on traditions, but if the traditions they are trying to protect exclude people, the tradition of remembering veterans will die, too.

There were more than 34,500 Sikhs in Brampton during the 2001 census. Typically half would choose to wear turbans, according to Dhaliwal.

Dhaliwal said unless the Legion's make an effort to reach out to the community and say everybody is allowed, the membership in the Legion likely won't see turbaned Sikhs any time soon.

He said his main concern was making sure Remembrance Day services weren't exclusive.

"It's a community event, too, you remember as a community. You want to be inclusive," he said.

After his initial upset, he is now philosophical.

"I found it offensive, but more at a comedic level, now. I'm just an individual, but if my grandfathers were alive and were there, or another group of Sikh vets, then I really would have been upset."

He said Remembrance Day is supposed to be about paying tribute to all veterans, but the exclusive policy was like "selling the memory" of Sikh veterans who fought for the British Army in the Second World War.

"Thirty-five per cent of the Indian men who volunteered were Sikh," he said. "You're not remembering them."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...