Blog 095: Religious Symbols in the Police

Religious Symbols in the Police

Jean-Paul Lahaie

Recently, a Montreal city councillor suggested that city police be allowed to wear religious symbols, in particular the Sikh turban and the Islamic veil. The Prime Minister of Canada, the Premier of Quebec and the Mayor of Montreal all expressed their openness to, and even support for, this idea. But the general public is far from being in agreement. In this blog, Jean-Paul Lahaie explains.

No. We will not accept this. Religious accommodations have reached the point of absurdity. The English-speaking world may be prepared to accommodate this kind of multiculturalism, but Quebeckers will grind their teeth in anger, because the minimum consensus here goes well beyond simply banning religious symbols for judges, police and prison guards.

The essence of the problem…

For the specific case of the police, the religious accommodation requested poses very real legal problems concerning workplace health and security, as well as problems for workplace relations which will ensue. Let us be pragmatic. The duties of a police officer involve certain legal constraints on the right to refuse a task (Bill 17, which covers the right to refuse to perform a task which is considered to be dangerous for the worker). A policemen and -women, in the course of their duties, may not refuse to arrest an armed thief under the pretext that their could be hit by a bullet which would put their life in danger. This restrictions applies to firemen and -women as well. On the other hand, the employer must necessarily provide police officers with the equipment and personal protection required for the tasks which they must perform. Now, imagine the dilemma of an employer who, in the context of a riot, must provide a gas mask or a protective helmet to a policeman who has been allowed to wear a beard for religious reasons! A gas mask is a very special kind of equipment and its safe and effective use requires that the face be beardless in order to prevent leaks. Imagine the leader of the NDP with an anti-riot helmet covering his turban underneath it! Deplorable… We could continue to list similar problematic scenarios with other religious nonsense such as the hijab, etc.

Labour Relations and the Montreal Police Department

Can you imagine the misunderstandings and injustices which will result among police officers when religious affiliation prevents the religiously handicapped from performing their duties because the employer was unable to provide equipment specially adapted to their circumstances? Can you imagine what will happen when police officers having no visible religious affiliation will be called upon to perform a difficult task (such as a swat team) while their colleagues under religious constraints are allowed to sit it out, taking it easy while sipping coffee in the cafeteria? Another plausible situation: suppose that our religiously bearded or hijabed officers, following an incident involving the inadequate use of protective clothing, declares a “workplace accident” caused by the poor functioning of the provided equipment. Who will pay for the work stoppage? Who will pay the salary, the medical costs, the cost of replacing the injured officer, etc.??? Should the bill be sent to the local mosque? Or perhaps to god himself? Will the costs be paid by the CSST (“Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail” which deals with workplace norms, equity, health and safety)? Will the employer challenge such a decision? Will the employer be forced to pay to develop special equipment?

When a Police Officer Intervenes

In the context of a police intervention in a society where there are several religions, the obligation of an appearance of neutrality is necessary in order for the officer to complete his or her task and keep the peace. If I have a problem with my Muslim neighbour, I do not want to see an advertisement for radical Islam on the person of the police officer who arrives to solve the dispute. I might fear that the officer could be tempted to be somewhat more sympathetic to my neighbour’s grievance. The appearance of religious neutrality is essential for social harmony. What guarantee of equal treatment can be expected if an Islamist police officer intervenes in a domestic dispute where a woman is being beaten by her husband? Which law will the officer apply: the quran or Quebec law?

Oddly enough, during the last labour conflict between the police union and the city of Montreal, camouflage pants worn by police caused an outcry of protests in the media, who alleged that public security was in danger. They claimed that the police uniform was indispensable for the officer’s job, and that it would be very dangerous to modify that uniform! Even though I consider the colour of the pants to be an insignificant detail for workplace health and security, nevertheless certain religious clothing constitute an obvious danger for citizens’ security.

And what about atheists? Will they have the right to display their non-belief on their police equipment? Here in Montreal, we are equiped with politicians who are useful idiots, beholden to the Quebec Liberal Party.


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