A Canadian cabinet minister said on Thursday that he was made to undergo a discriminatory security check at the United States’s Detroit airport last year.
Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains said the security personnel asked him to remove his turban and only let him board the flight after he revealed his diplomatic passport. “It was an experience that made me uncomfortable,” BBC quoted Bains as telling the Montreal-based French newspaper La Presse.
Bains said the security agents at the Detroit airport were “very insistent and very difficult” when he refused to remove his turban. They finally asked him to undergo special screening despite passing through the metal detector once. However, that malfunctioned and the security personnel asked him to remove his turban again. He said no and asked them to re-do the test.
“I believed that it was an intrusion into my private life...They would never ask me to take off my clothes,” he said. The agent relented, and the test worked the second time. However, when he approached his scheduled gate, another guard reportedly asked him to return to the security check.
“He told me: ‘You have to take off your turban.’ I responded politely that it was not a security threat and that I had passed all the security controls,” Bains said. “Then he asked for my name and identification. I reluctantly gave him my diplomatic passport.”
He added: “I never told them who I was [till then], because I wanted to know how things would go for people who are not ministers or lawmakers.”
“Once the agents realised my identity, they said they made calls and that everything was okay, that I could leave,” Bains said, adding that this left him speechless. “I told them that their last answer was causing me a problem. Security is important. We can not compromise on security.”
“All security checks have been respected. I was patient, I tested twice. I’m about to embark and you tell me to take off my turban,” the minister said. “But by knowing my diplomatic status, you tell me that everything is correct. This is not a satisfactory answer.”
The incident prompted Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland to express her disappointment to officials in the United States, following which they apologised for the incident.
“We regret the screening experience did not meet the expectations of Bains,” US Transportation Security Authority spokeswoman Michelle Negron told the BBC. “Upon review of airport closed-circuit video, we determined that the officer conducting the screening did not follow standard operating procedures and therefore received additional training.”