U.S. regrets asking Canada minister to remove turban

Josh Wingrove

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration is expressing “regret” after airport security demanded that Justin Trudeau’s industry minister remove his turban, sparking a Canadian government complaint.

Navdeep Bains, who is Sikh and serves as Canada’s Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, was leaving Detroit in April 2017 when airport security officers asked him to remove the turban. He declined on religious grounds.

“Once they realized my position, who I was, I was ultimately allowed to fly,” Bains said in televised remarks Thursday, after Montreal’s La Presse newspaper reported the incident. He said the issue “speaks to discrimination” and was the first time that’s happened to him, adding that U.S. officials apologized.

“I was very frustrated and disappointed that this occurred but ultimately I was allowed to fly,” Bains told the Associated Press. “But it was because of who I was and that should not be the case. It doesn’t matter what your status is and what your position is.”

Bains said it’s the first time he’s been asked to take his turban off while traveling in the U.S. In the Sikh religion men are required to wear the turban.

Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said separately from Washington that her department spoke with U.S. officials about the situation and “expressed Canada’s perspective.”

The Transportation Security Administration, in a statement released Thursday by assistant press secretary Michelle Negron, said it reviewed security videos and found the officer checking Bains didn’t follow procedure and has since received training. The written statement did not include an apology.

“We regret the screening experience did not meet the expectations of Mr. Bains,” the agency said. “When possible, passengers may remove non-formfitting headwear before proceeding through the security checkpoint. We recognize that passengers may be unable or unwilling to remove items for religious, medical, or other reasons, and should expect to undergo additional screening protocols.”