Canadian government minister told to remove his turban at Detroit airport

Officials from Trump administration released an apology

Maya Oppenheim
Friday 11 May 2018 17:00 BST
Navdeep Bains said it was the first time has been asked to take his turban off while travelling in the US
Navdeep Bains said it was the first time has been asked to take his turban off while travelling in the US (AFP/Getty)

A Canadian government minister has said he was repeatedly told to take off his turban at Detroit airport by a security agent in what he branded a discriminatory security check.

Navdeep Bains’s saga caused a minor diplomatic incident, prompting Canada to complain to US officials and officials from the Trump administration to release an apology.

Mr Bains, the minister of innovation, science and economic development, was returning to Toronto after meetings with Michigan state leaders in April 2017 and had already gone through security checks when the incident took place.

“I went through all the security checks without revealing my identity as a minister,” he told online Canadian newspaper La Presse on Thursday.

“I did it knowingly, as is my habit, to understand better what ordinary people are going through when they sometimes have trouble getting along with people in a position of authority.”

The minister said at first he managed to go through the metal detector without experiencing any problems but was then asked to go through an additional security process due to his turban.

He said an agent asked him to go through another screening but the machine was not working properly.

After the mechanism emitted a warning sound he was asked to take off his turban by a security officer.

“I asked him why I had to take off my turban since the metal detector had worked well. I will never be asked to take my clothes off. It’s the same thing. It’s a piece of linen,” he recalled.

In the Sikh religion men are required to wear the turban. The US amended its travel policy in 2007 – permitting Sikhs to keep turbans on while going through the security inspection process.

Mr Bains said that after passing a second test he was allowed to continue but he was again approached when he got to the boarding gate.

Less than 20 minutes before the plane was scheduled to depart he said a security guard approached him to say he had to go back to security because protocol had not been followed. Yet again he asked him to take off the turban.

“I politely replied that I did not represent a security threat, and that I had passed all security checks. He then asked for my name and identification. I reluctantly handed him my diplomatic passport.”

Mr Bains said he was then allowed to board the plane. He said it was the first time has been asked to take his turban off while travelling in the US.

After the incident, Mr Bains complained to Canada’s foreign minister and officials in Ottawa then got in touch with the US Embassy there and officials in Washington.

Undersecretaries for both the homeland security and transportation departments apologised to Canada on behalf of the US government for what had happened.

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