Jagmeet Singh wears his impeccably tailored bespoke suits like social armour – as a young Sikh man with a long black beard and turban, he knows he's going to stand out anyway, but believes his stylish clothes protect him from negative stereotypes.
The colour of his turban – sometimes it's black but often he rocks pink or turquoise – reflects his mood, much like a "mood ring," he jokingly says. He adds it's a good way of engaging people in conversation.
Mr. Singh, an Osgoode Hall graduate and former criminal lawyer, is the MPP for Bramalea-Gore-Malton. Elected in 2011, the NDP's 36-year-old deputy leader is one of the youngest politicians at Queen's Park, a rising star and the first turban-wearing Sikh in the history of the Ontario legislature.
But for all of the accolades and success – academically, financially – he is a target for police. Numerous times, beginning when he was a teenager in Windsor, Ont., Mr. Singh has been stopped for no reason. This has continued even since he was elected.
Now, he wants it stopped, and not just for him. Mr. Singh, who ran for office largely to fight for human rights, will be consulting with groups and individuals over the summer to come up with a framework for legislation to ban the controversial practice of carding.
In the fall, Mr. Singh is hoping to introduce his plan, as he joins a growing number of influential voices calling for a ban of this police tactic. There is a vigorous debate in Toronto over the practice of stopping and questioning people who are not suspected of a crime to gather personal information on them. Critics say it disproportionately targets minorities.
"My goal is to push the government on this issue," he says. "This isn't just a Toronto issue … this is something that impacts kids and youth across the province in any urban setting."
The Liberal government is reviewing the issue.
Mr. Singh grew up privileged in Windsor. His dad is a psychiatrist; his mother is a teacher. Police would stop him when he was driving around with his friends in his father's Mercedes. He noticed a pattern to these "routine stops," realizing it was because he looked suspicious.
Born in Canada to parents who had immigrated from Punjab, Mr. Singh lived in St. John's until he was seven years old. And he stood out. He has worn a turban since he was six years old; he has never cut his hair and it's down to his waist. His beard is lush and has grown a few inches below his chin.
He says he learned how to fight in Windsor to keep the bullies at bay, but never found that a satisfying way of dealing with the situation. Instead, he decided to attack the issue by being the best he could be in academics, his career and life.
"On one side, I have been given a lot of love and I appreciate that," he says referring to articles naming him as one of the best-dressed in Toronto, for example.
"But these types of interactions [carding] still send that message that, despite all of the success and achievements, you still don't belong here."
When he's stopped and confronted by a police officer for no reason – as he was a couple of years ago riding a bicycle in downtown Toronto – he gets the same feeling he did as a kid in Windsor.
"I just wasn't welcome … Imagine how someone feels who is younger than me?" he says. And, he wonders what kind of "negative impact" it would have had on him had he not been insulated by a good education and successful background.
Mr. Singh's passion for politics came, in part, from his parents, who encouraged him to give back. He was a blank slate in terms of party affiliation, but was inspired by former federal NDP leader Jack Layton because of his support for minority communities.
He believes his outspokenness about violence against women in India, and support for Sikhs and other minority communities there, resulted in his being denied a visa to travel to the country a couple of years ago to accept a major award. It has not happened before to a Canadian elected official, he says.
And Mr. Singh was not involved in any of the activities around the recent visit by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. "I was the only, I think, elected official in Canada who spoke up and said, 'Though it's great we are having international relations with various countries, we also have to keep in mind that human rights are important for us to observe …'"
With the legislature lifting for the summer, Mr. Singh is off to California to speak at a human rights conference. He is bringing his bicycle, which folds up and stores neatly in a special container. He likes to bike around different cities and makes an elegant figure on wheels.
This day, he's wearing a checked suit and black turban. That he is wearing shoes without socks is what he calls his "cool summer style." He is also sporting a small but fancy kirpan designed by a former hippie in New Mexico – "a white guy who became a Sikh," he says. Mr. Singh calls this kirpan a "beautiful little guy." Usually, he wears a larger one but this is the perfect size for travelling – and very much a symbol of the oath he took to protect human rights.