Case against Sikh dismissed as police fail to return turban

Toronto: A Canadian court has dismissed a drunk driving charge against a Sikh man because police officers did not return his turban for over three hours after it accidentally fell off while he was being arrested. Charges of impaired operation and excess blood alcohol against Sardul Singh were dismissed because Peel Regional Police officers did not return his turban after it fell while he was being placed in a cruiser in Southern Ontario.

Ontario Court Justice Jill Copeland, in a decision released last month, wrote that the failure to return Singh’s turban while he was in custody constituted a Charter breach. Copeland ruled that the breach of the defendant’s right to freedom of religion by police was a serious one and that Singh’s breath sample evidence should be excluded because its admission into evidence would bring the administration of justice into disrepute.

Peel police Chief Jennifer Evans, in a statement on Friday, was quoted as saying by The Canadian Press that she ordered a review of the decision and the officer’s actions after Singh was detained on December 10, 2014. Evans said Peel Regional Police have had a directive in place since 2012 regarding the proper search and handling of religious items and a training bulletin has been issued internally to remind officers of this and other directives.

Peel police recognise “the proper search and handling of religious items are of great importance in keeping with the freedom of religious rights,” Evans was quoted as saying. “I am concerned by the negative impact that this incident and my officer’s actions have had on members within our community,” she said.

“We have since reinforced the importance of this directive to ensure that this type of mistake does not occur in the future,” she added. Copeland said in her ruling there was no dispute that the removal of Singh’s turban was an accident, but it was not returned to him for more than three hours.

“The evidence of the various officers who interacted with Mr Singh about the cause for this delay in returning the turban, and what steps were taken when in relation to the turban, contains numerous inconsistencies,” Copeland wrote. Peel police policy states the only exception to returning a turban is that if a prisoner is suicidal, or if continuous monitoring of the prisoner is not possible, then the turban shall not be returned for security reasons.

“Neither of those concerns is at issue in this case,” Copeland wrote in her ruling. “I accept Mr. Singh’s evidence that he felt ashamed at being without his turban, and that it made him feel vulnerable,” she said.

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