By Mark Hallum
After an incident in which a Sikh government official from Canada was forced to remove his turban by TSA, U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) issued a letter to the federal agency asking them to re-assess their protocol for screening members of the Sikh community.
Navdeep Bains, the Canadian Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, was asked to take off his turban twice by an agent of the Transportation Security Administration in Michigan as he was traveling on state business, once at security and another time at the gate upon boarding.
“I appreciate the hard work that TSA carries out every day in protecting the American people,” Crowley said. “At the same time, Sikhs and Sikh-Americans have informed me that situations like this are emblematic of their ongoing concerns regarding screenings. In light of these concerns, I would appreciate any information you can provide with respect to how issues affecting the broader Sikh and Sikh-American communities are approached by TSA, including what standards warrant secondary screening.”
Queens has a large Sikh population in Richmond Hill.
According to Crowley, Bains was also subject to swab tests and other screenings, which he passed, and TSA will be providing additional training to the agent who broke with procedure in his actions.
“[It’s] clear that the Transportation Security Administration requires cultural competency training and review of its procedures and policies, given the incidents of TSA discrimination against observant Sikhs,” said Sikh Coalition National Advocacy Manager Sim Singh. “Profiling travelers on the basis of their race, gender identity, ethnicity, religion, or nationality makes our country less secure by diverting resources and attention away from actual threats.”
TSA protocol was updated in 2007 to allow passengers with turbans to keep them on when passing through security checkpoints, according to Crowley.
“I also understand that what happened with respect to Mr. Bains wasn’t carried out according to normal protocols and I am interested in knowing the steps that TSA has already taken or could take to expand education with an aim toward preventing these situations from occurring in the future,” the congressman said.
Crowley has long advocated for Sikh rights to their religious garb and in January 2017 celebrated the NYPD adjusting regulations to allow officers to adhere to religious observances while serving.
Although uniform code allowed for the turban to be worn, beards had to trimmed to a certain length, going against the Sikh doctrine that facial hair must remain unshorn.
Nonetheless, Sikhs in the city were no longer forced to choose between becoming a police officer and their religion, which Crowley said can only strengthen relations between NYPD and the communities they serve.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall