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'Moving from tolerance to acceptance:' YRP honours Asian Canadians

York Regional Police hosts a celebration today to mark Asian Heritage Month

Today was a celebration of cultural diversity as York Regional Police highlighted the rich contributions Asian Canadians had made to our country.

More than 300 people attended an Asian Heritage Month event at police headquarters at 47 Don Hillock Dr. in Aurora, enjoying cultural performances and dances while hearing from law enforcement personnel on the challenges of creating an inclusive environment. 

"We're so fortunate to live in Canada and in York Region where there is a wealth of diversity," said Chief Jim MacSween. "We know diversity enriches our communities, and with this one, we are so proud to celebrate the many contributions Asian Canadians have made both past and present within our region, across our province and, of course, across our entire country."

Keynote speaker Insp. Baltej Dhillon, a retired Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer, was the first Mountie to wear a turban as part of his uniform after much controversy at the time in the 1990s.

"Sikh boys and Sikh men that were coming to Canada at the time were quickly taken to the barbershop to have their beards shaved, turbans removed and hair cut," said Dhillon. "Why? Because the pain was too much for them to continue with their identity. There was racism, violence, prejudice and discrimination."

Singh, born in Malaysia, faced a lot of discrimination when he came to Canada as a teenager in the 1980s. People told him to cut his hair while calling him names. He was told he could never have employment opportunities because of his turban. However, he never folded, keeping his promise to his father to maintain his faith and culture with the turban.

"My father was my role model, my first role model, my best role model, my mentor," said Dhillon. "Before he passed away, I shared a few words with him and he said 'son, whatever you do, don't give up on your identity. This is who you are. Stay true to yourself'."

He sought a career in law enforcement and requested that the Mounted Police change its uniform rules to allow him to wear his turban. This request sparked a national debate on religious accommodation in Canada, as opponents believed visible minorities were changing the country's heritage. The federal government eventually amended the dress code to include turbans in the 1990s.

"This is about righting the wrongs of the past, this is about tipping the scales to a balance, this is about catching up to the time we have lost, this is about the wrongs that have been done in the past and now moving from a tolerance place to an acceptance place," said Dhillon.

The day's performers included Dolly Bollywood, the Nachde Rangeelay Group performing a Bhangra dance and Dhol drumming, Chinese Zither artist Eli Yang, the Soaring Eagles Lion Dance team, and the Sankalana Dance Group.

MacSween reflected on the impact of Asian police members, who represent the community they serve and are a voice of York Region's Asian population. They also inspire the next generation to continue the legacy of Asian Canadians in law enforcement. MacSween reaffirmed his commitment to addressing hate crimes affecting the Asian population.

"We know over the past few years there have been incidents where the Asian community has been victims of hate or bias," said MacSween. "Those incidents have left people shaken, hurt, or afraid. I want to reassure you that we are committed to combating hate in all of its forms, will continue to investigate these incidents, and will stand up and continue to police through the lens of human rights here in York Region."