Posted by: Singh Is King | Saturday, August 18, 2007

Sikh group upset about ‘unacceptable’ passport photos

The World Sikh Organization is outraged that Passport Canada has refused to issue passports to three Surrey Sikh children because they were wearing religious headgear.

Lakhwinder Kaur Sidhu mailed passport applications to Ottawa for herself and her husband along with their three children, Gurleen Kaur, 9; Ravneet Kaur, 7; and Gurmant Singh, 4, on May 15.

All five had included passport photos in which they were wearing their religious headgear.

Sidhu said Thursday that she received the passports for herself and her husband last week, but the children’s applications were denied because their photos did not meet the specifications as the wearing of a “head covering is unacceptable.”

The children were wearing patkas, or handkerchiefs, which are knotted at the top to keep their hair intact.

Sikhs wear head coverings as part of their religious observance after they are baptized.

Sidhu said her husband, Hardip, was wearing a turban and she was also wearing religious headgear.

“It’s really important for us, we have to keep our head covered and we respect that,” Sidhu said.

Passport Canada officials could not be reached for comment Thursday.

But the government website states that “hats or head coverings are not permitted except when worn for religious reasons and only if the full facial features are clearly visible.”

The World Sikh Organization sent a letter to the minister of foreign affairs Wednesday, asking that the “misunderstanding” be resolved quickly.

World Sikh Organization spokesman Jasbeer Singh said the wearing of religious headgear by Sikhs is protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and it’s unacceptable for the passports to be rejected on those grounds.

“In this day and age today, after all this controversy for 25 years for somebody to still be unaware of who Sikhs are, it’s incredible, especially in B.C.,” Singh said, estimating there are about 125,000 Sikhs in the province.

“What’s more amazing is that the parents were wearing [religious] headgear and were given passports but the kids were denied.”

Lakhwinder Sidhu said she hadn’t heard of this happening to anyone before.

She said her two daughters held previous passports, but weren’t wearing headgear in the earlier photos because they had not yet been baptized.

The rejection has upset her oldest daughter, she said, as she understands everything that has gone on and feels “let down.”

“It’s really disappointing,” Sidhu said, adding there was no explanation beyond a statement that the headgear was deemed unacceptable.

“The passport office, they should know the meaning of the headgear.”

Sidhu recently resubmitted the application to the Surrey passport office, and said she was told there shouldn’t be a problem because the patkas are worn for religious reasons.

WSO Canada president Gurpreet Singh Bal was also surprised that the passports were declined.

“The Sikh community has been a part of Canada for over 100 years and it is no secret that many Sikhs wear religious head-coverings,” Bal said in a news release. “Hopefully this was a gross error on the part of a local official but if it is indeed Passport Canada’s policy, then this is of serious concern to the Sikh community.”

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