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

Sikh passport photos rejected because of headgear

Passport Canada refused to issue passports to the three children because they were wearing Sikh religious headgear. (CBC)

Family says Passport Canada told them religious garb was unacceptable

A Sikh family in Surrey, B.C., is upset because Passport Canada denied their children’s passport applications, saying the religious head garb the children wore in their photos was unacceptable.

Days later, the decision was reversed but the family is demanding to know why the pictures were rejected in the first place.

Nine-year-old Gurleen Kaur Sihdu, one of the three children, is seen in her passport photo wearing a head covering but her face is clearly visible.

She wants to know why these pictures weren’t good enough for Passport Canada.

“It isn’t fair,” Gurleen said on Thursday at the family home, “We have Sikh religion and other people might have head covering too. And they might get passports and it’s not fair that we get no passports and stuff for us.”

The family had planned to go to the United States for a summer vacation but that’s been cancelled.

Oddly, Gurleen’s mother and father received their passports and both had similar head coverings, which are legally permitted for passport photos.

Her mother, Laikvinder Sihdu said the photos were finally accepted after she took them to the passport office in Surrey in person.

Laikvinder said even though the children’s photos have since been accepted, it is too late to receive passports for a summer vacation and they are now considering going to India this winter instead.

She thinks someone at Passport Canada originally denied the passports out of ignorance.

“We are here almost 100 years and they should know these things,” Laikvinder said. “I think maybe it’s somebody is not knowing what exactly is Sikhism and what is the importance of covering their heads because they accepted the passport here in the Surrey office.

“I think they need to educate their staff more so that … something won’t happen to someone else, what happened to me.”

The World Sikh Organization has taken up their cause and said it wants to know why the original photos were denied.

In a statement released Thursday WSO Canada President Gurpreet Singh Bal wrote, “It is surprising that something like this can still happen today in Canada.”

“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,” wrote Bal in the statement. “The wearing of religious headgear by Sikhs is protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and if it is indeed Passport Canada’s policy to reject applications from Sikhs wearing these head coverings, it is completely unacceptable.”

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