Two Sikh men say they were shocked Wednesday when one of them was ordered to remove his religious headdress by management at the Tignish branch of the Royal Canadian Legion.
Jaswinder Singh Dhaliwal said when he refused the demand for religious reasons the situation quickly spiraled out of control.
There were actually three people in the group that visited the legion that night, Sunnydeep Singh Pannu (Sunni) and Jaswinder, who are Sikhs, and Annemarie Blanchard, a Toronto native with family ties in Tignish.
Jaswinder was the only one wearing the head covering, a small turban sometimes referred to as a patka. He wore that one instead of a full turban, Blanchard explained, because it fit under his winter hat.
The three friends work together in nearby Bloomfield.
The trio said the incident at the legion quickly became heated and racist slurs were hurled at them by other patrons near the bar.
Blanchard said they arrived at the legion just before 10 p.m.
“We were minding our own business, playing pool,” she explained.
“Once everyone started with the racist slurs, understandably, these two gentlemen, and myself, we all got very upset,” she said.
“I got them out of there. I was worried about their safety at that point.
“My friends don’t know anybody and I don’t know that many people down here so we thought, ‘Well, we can meet some new people.’ It didn’t work out that way.”
Blanchard said they meant no disrespect to the legion or veterans.
She admits she had forgotten about the legion policy requiring patrons to remove their caps out of respect for veterans.
They were into their fourth game of pool when a bouncer approached Jaswinder and asked him to remove his head covering.
Both men had been wearing winter caps when they entered the legion but removed them when asked to do so.
Legion president Stephen Gallant is apologetic about the incident.
He said the branch policy is consistent with the legion policy across Canada, that headwear worn for religious reasons is exempt from the no caps policy.
“We abide by those rules. What happened Wednesday night was an unfortunate incident. Hopefully it’s corrected now,” said Gallant.
He admitted there was some confusion on whether the article the patron was wearing was a religious garment.
The incident, he said, prompted a meeting with membership on Thursday night to make sure everyone is aware of the legion’s stance on the issue.
“It is our mission to learn from this incident and to educate our members and staff,” he said.
Gallant said he will, on behalf of staff, members and executive of the branch be “personally issuing an apology to those involved in the incident and reassure them they are welcome at our branch.”
Asked about Gallant’s offer of an apology, Sunni responded, “We don’t have any hard feelings for anybody. We just want him to make sure that this don’t happen again to someone else.”