By Chris Brown, CBC News Posted: Jun 17, 2015 12:41 PM PT Last Updated: Jun 17, 2015 1:43 PM PT
The Harper government has swiftly reversed a new policy at Canadian airports that required turbaned Sikhs and others in head coverings to automatically submit to a secondary search for explosive residue.
The move came after Vancouver frequent flier and Nexus card holder Raj Hundal told his story to CBC News.
Hundal flies to the United States several times a month and through the Nexus pre-clearance process, he's
already been deemed a low security risk.
Yet recently during each trip through security, he said he was being subjected to a secondary search, which is usually just applied to passengers randomly.
Hundal said screening officials told him it was because a new Transport Canada policy, introduced in April, requires anyone wearing anything on their head to either remove it, or have their hands tested for explosives after a pat down.
"Why not have this new explosive residue test being done on normal clothing?" Hundal told CBC News.
"They were specifically targeting headgear and turbans. It's highlighting to the general public that people who look like me are security threats. And we're not," he said.
Hundal, along with Canadian members of the World Sikh Organization, said they demanded an explanation from the
Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA), which is responsible for security screening at Canadian airports.
In a letter dated May 4 and obtained by CBC News, the agency explained that the move made Canada's screening procedures involving head coverings "consistent with … our international counterparts."
Over the next month, Hundal said he documented his experience at four U.S. airports he visited — Portland, Oregon, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City and Bellingham, Wash.
He said he was only asked once to submit to a secondary explosive check, and even then the U.S. agent apologized for making a mistake.
Complaints from Sikhs
Initially on Tuesday, a CATSA spokesman indicated the policy was being implemented fairly and that it reflected optimum levels of security.
However, later in the day, after inquiries from CBC News, a spokesman for Transport Minister Lisa Raitt sent another email indicating the government would change the policy.
"This was a decision made by department officials," said the spokesman.
"The government recently became aware of this decision and has directed that it be reversed immediately on flights within Canada."
Later in the evening, the Minister of State for Multiculturalism Tim Uppal — the only turbaned Sikh in Stephen Harper's government — said in a Facebook post that he had raised the issue with Raitt's office.
For now, the reversal only affects screening procedures for domestic flights within Canada.
But Raitt's office said the intention is to remove the mandatory secondary checks for turbaned passengers on
U.S.-bound flights too.