Devout Sikh has drunk driving charge dismissed over careless handling of turban

Members of the Sikh community gather during Khalsa Day festivities in front of city hall in Toronto, Canada April 24, 2016.
Members of the Sikh community gather during Khalsa Day festivities in front of city hall in Toronto, Canada April 24, 2016. (Photo: REUTERS/Chris Hellgren)

How careful do police have to be when taking someone into custody?

More careful than they were in this case, according to the Ontario Court of Justice.

In December 2014, Peel Regional Police arrested Sardul Singh, a religious Sikh man, for drunk driving after a RIDE spot-check showed that he had an excessive blood alcohol level.

After his arrest, Singh was handcuffed and put into a police cruiser but in the process of entering the car, his turban was accidentally knocked off his head.

For some reason, it took police three hours before they returned the turban to Singh and they wouldn’t even temporarily uncuff him to put the turban back on his head, although one officer had attempted, unsuccessfully, to put the turban back on.

After the incident, Singh went to court to argue that his charter rights were violated, because his turban was not returned to him in a “timely manner” which caused him to feel shame, due to his “sincere belief that wearing a turban was an act of religious observance as an observant Sikh.”

The court agreed with him, as Judge Jill Copeland found that “the officers involved in Mr. Singh’s arrest and detention acted in a careless manner in relation to Mr. Singh’s right to freedom of religion in relation to the turban.”

This violation of his religious freedom was especially egregious, because Peel Regional police introduced a policy in 2012 that actually addresses the issue of turbans for those who have been taken into custody.

According to the policy, the only exception where a turban may not be returned to a person swiftly is where police are conducting a search of the person, there are security or safety concerns, or if the person was suicidal - none of which applied in this case.

As there were no safety or suicide concerns, it’s then rather puzzling why it took police so long to return Singh’s turban, or why police wouldn’t temporarily uncuff him. This was something that puzzled Copeland as well although she never found any good answers to those questions.

However, what she did find is that Singh’s charter rights were violated due to bad police conduct, and that the case was tainted and couldn’t continue.

The drunk driving charge was dismissed.

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