The Edmonton Police Service is to reveal a prototype official hijab for its officers this week, following testing to ensure its safety.
It is understood the Muslim headscarf would be black, and designed to be worn underneath the standard police cap.
Unlike a traditional hijab, it is to be affixed with tear-away snaps, and designed so as not to obstruct an officer’s vision, or even breathing, during a struggle or other dynamic situation. It is being tested by the force’s tactics training unit, though a final version has not yet been decided, said Leila Daoud, a civilian spokesperson for the force.
Scott McKeen, a city councillor who has helped immigrants settle in Edmonton, called it a “gesture of inclusion” toward a local Muslim community that “can feel a little skittish at times” about Islamophobia. He compared it to Quebec, which has taken precisely the opposite tack, and mandated that any religious garb on state employees is to be banned as contrary to the province’s values.
“One of the perceptions about Edmonton and Alberta is that we’re kind of redneck,” Mr. McKeen said. Offering the hijab to police recruits, especially in the absence of any political pressure, “is sort of saying we want to have a diverse police service that reflects the diversity and multicultural aspects of Edmonton…. I’m proud of us.”
Overt displays of Islamic faith on government workers have been controversial, and have inspired misinformation and fear-mongering. Mr. McKeen laughed at the reaction of a local paper, which printed a doctored image of a police officer in full niqab, which the EPS pointed out is fake.
“We wanted to distance ourselves from that image,” Ms. Daoud said.
A niqab is a full-face covering with small eye holes. A hijab is a headscarf to cover the hair.
In fact, there is as yet no picture of the official Edmonton police headscarf, but a prototype is to be revealed later this week, Ms. Daoud said.
Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, called it a “natural evolution” for policing in Canada, that follows similar moves in the private sector, and opens up career options for minorities.
He compared it to the introduction of the Sikh turban to the RCMP in 1990, which was controversial at the time but is now broadly accepted.
“The Muslim community is growing in Canada, and [a police hijab] is certainly something that we welcome,” he said.
It is not the first time a Canadian security force has permitted the hijab. Airport Customs officers have been allowed to wear it, and it has been approved in Toronto.
In the summer of 2001, London became the first UK city to permit female officers to wear an official hijab. Its version includes a black and white check rim. Other British forces have headscarves on hand for female officers who have reason to enter mosques. Norway, Sweden and Indonesia have similar policies.
In 2003, Iran permitted women officers to wear the hijab, when women were admitted to the police force for the first time since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
In the U.S., former Philadelphia police commissioner Sylvester Johnson, himself a Muslim, was at the centre of a national fight over the issue in 2003, after he ordered a female officer to not wear her dark blue hijab.
“There is nowhere in the Koran that says you have to wear a beard or a hijab,” he said at the time. “We are a paramilitary organization, and we just cannot let people wear whatever they want.”
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission decided he was wrong, and following a legal battle that attracted many intervenors, Mr. Johnson’s view won out in 2007, when a judge found the uniform code has a “compelling public purpose.” That ruling was upheld on appeal in 2009.