US & Canada

Jagmeet Singh: 'Cut your turban off,' voter tells NDP leader

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh Image copyright The Canadian Press
Image caption NDP leader Jagmeet Singh speaks to journalists

A Canadian political leader has been told to cut off his turban to look more Canadian during a campaign stop.

Reporters filmed the encounter between NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, a practising Sikh, and a man in Montreal, Quebec.

Mr Singh says cordially that Canadians "look like all sorts of people" before walking off. The man wishes him well.

In June, the province of Quebec passed a law banning certain civil servants from wearing religious symbols at work such as the turban, hijab or kippah.

Mr Singh is the first visible minority leader at the helm of a major federal political party in Canada.

His NDP is fighting to retain its 14 seats in Quebec, though opinion polls show the left-of-centre party trailing in the province ahead of the country's general election on 21 October.

Mr Singh was greeting voters at a popular food market in Montreal on Wednesday when he approached the man, greeted him and shook his hand.

The man leaned towards Mr Singh and was heard saying: "You should cut your turban off and you'll look like a Canadian."

"I think Canadians look like all sorts of people," Mr Singh responded. "That's the beauty of Canada."

"In Rome you do as the Romans do," the man said.

"But this is Canada, you can do whatever you like," said Mr Singh.

"Alright, take care," the man responded. "I hope you win."

Mr Singh later told journalists that he, like many Canadians, has faced racism and discrimination in communities across Canada.

He added that he was confident in being able to move beyond any prejudice to highlight shared values.

Mr Singh and three other federal leaders - Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, and Bloc Quebecois leader Yves-Francois Blanchet - are in Quebec for a federal election debate.

Among the issues expected to be raised during the event was the province's Bill 21.

The legislation, passed in June, bars civil servants in positions of "authority" from wearing religious symbols at work, including teachers and police officers.

A number of municipal governments, including Montreal and Calgary's, have voiced opposition to the bill, which has popular support in Quebec.

Its supporters have praised the law as a reasonable step towards enshrining the separation of Church and state in Quebec.

Critics say it will make it more difficult for religious minorities to integrate into Quebec society, and that it unfairly targets Muslim women.

To varying degrees, all the federal leaders have spoken out against the legislation except for the Bloc Quebecois, which backs the bill.

But despite critical words, party leaders - including Mr Singh - say they will let court battles over the bill play out in Quebec, and keep out of the province's affairs.

With contributions from the Canadian Press

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