Female members of the RCMP are now allowed to wear a hijab head scarf as part of their uniform, as the Mounties look to encourage more Muslim women to join their ranks.
The newly discovered uniform option was adopted by the force in January. But according to law, members must still seek approval from RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson for any faith-based accommodation, and there has yet to be a formal request to wear the hijab while on duty.
"The move to offer the hijab as part of the RCMP uniform is intended to better reflect the changing diversity in the community and encourage more Muslim women to consider policing as a career option," according to an RCMP briefing note sent to Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale.
"The objective will be to demonstrate that the RCMP is a progressive and inclusive police service that values and respects persons of all cultural and religious backgrounds," it said.
The note, approved by Commissioner Paulson, said three versions of the hijab underwent "rigorous testing" at the RCMP training depot, before an approved version was selected for police use. It can also fit under the iconic RCMP forage cap, a spokeswoman said.
"The RCMP hijab is designed to be unobtrusive, easily removable and present the least possible risk to members. Tests have demonstrated that the hijab headscarf does not reduce an officer's effectiveness in the performance of her duties," the note said.
The move was praised by the National Council of Canadian Muslims, who called it a "welcome, logical step." "We're hoping that women will look then to the RCMP as a potential career pathway for them," spokeswoman Amira Elghawaby said.
Since 1990, male Sikh RCMP members have been allowed to wear a turban on the job, once approved. Baltej Singh Dhillon, a young recruit, fought for the right to wear his turban and Parliament changed the rules to allow it, prompting protests around the country.
The Mounties' policy now mirrors that of the Canadian Armed Forces, which has accommodated the hijab since Lieutenant-Commander Wafa Dabbagh was the first to wear one in 1996. However, in case of "real danger," it must be modified to accommodate gear such as a gas mask or helmets, according to policy.
"The CAF would evaluate a request, taking into account the religious beliefs of the member, and make a decision based on safety and operational considerations," spokesman Evan Koronewski said in an e-mail.
Police forces in Toronto and Edmonton have also allowed the hijab since 2011 and 2013, respectively, along with forces in Britain, Sweden and Norway, as well as some in the United States.
Mark Pugash, a spokesman for the Toronto Police Service, said one auxiliary member – who volunteers with the force – currently wears a hijab.
"Language skills, cultural competencies, are huge benefits for us, in reaching out to people in a variety of ways," Mr. Pugash said. "It's in an organization's best interest to try to reach out, particularly in a law-enforcement capacity, to reach out to as much of your community as you possibly can."
A spokesman for the Sûreté du Québec said that province's force respects the RCMP's decision but would not comment further on whether such an accommodation would be allowed.
Commissioner Paulson will consider requests for cultural and religious accommodation on a case-by-case basis, the note said. In the past two years, there have been 30 requests, most pertaining to those who are obligated to grow a beard as part of their religion.