Canadians have certain rights that are protected by a law called the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the Charter). The Charter sets out the limits of what governments can and cannot do. Some of the rights and freedoms that the Charter protects are:
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) are not just Canada’s national police force. They are considered a national symbol.
Up until 1990, members of the force were required to wear the entire RCMP uniform. This posed a problem for Sikh members. They could not wear a traditional turban with the uniform.
This led the RCMP to change their regulations about uniforms. Members could be exempted from wearing parts of it. This exemption would be allowed on the basis of members’ religious beliefs. This change meant that Sikh members could wear a turban instead of the RCMP hat.
A group of citizens challenged this decision. They argued that allowing religious symbols as part of the RCMP uniform was unconstitutional.
A Federal Court ruled against these citizens’ complaint. The Court said that members of the public did not have to participate in, adopt, or share any religious beliefs simply because an RCMP member was wearing a turban. The court also said that members of other religions were not discriminated against simply because Sikhs were allowed to wear their religious headdress.
This case was appealed. The Supreme Court of Canada reviewed the case, and upheld the Federal Court’s decision.