Subway's disrespect

Religious freedom, which includes the freedom to wear a head covering of choice, belongs to every Canadian, much as the right to ride on a city bus belongs to everyone. No one in this country needs to ask for special permission to sit at the front of the bus…Accommodation of differences, be it for disabled people who need ramps for their wheelchairs, pregnant women who need time off work or individuals with a different Sabbath or manner of religious dress than the majority, is not a privilege or perquisite. It is the law, as long as making the accommodation does not cause undue hardship.

The Globe and Mail
December 13, 2003

Subway's disrespect
Editorial

If owners or employees of Subway Restaurants wish to wear a turban, yarmulke or other religious head-covering, they need to apply in writing to the company for a waiver. With this policy, the international restaurant chain thinks it has met the need for equal treatment of religious minorities.

It hasn't. Religious freedom, which includes the freedom to wear a head covering of choice, belongs to every Canadian, much as the right to ride on a city bus belongs to everyone. No one in this country needs to ask for special permission to sit at the front of the bus.

That shouldn't need saying in the year 2003. Observant Sikhs have been wearing turbans in the RCMP since 1991, and if it is good enough for the venerable Mounties it should be good enough for everyone else. Accommodation of differences, be it for disabled people who need ramps for their wheelchairs, pregnant women who need time off work or individuals with a different Sabbath or manner of religious dress than the majority, is not a privilege or perquisite. It is the law, as long as making the accommodation does not cause undue hardship.

Where is the hardship in allowing Hardip Singh Brah, who owns several Subway franchises in Alberta, to wear the head covering required of observant Sikhs? There is no hardship at all, unless the idea is that customers will be put off their lunch by the sight of a turban. That is like saying that companies have the right to place minority employees in the back room so as not to offend racist customers, a thoroughly discredited notion.

In fact, Mr. Brah, who has filed a complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission, says he began entering his shops by the back door, after representatives of the chain made clear to him that his turban violated the company dress code. Mr. Brah contends, in effect, that he has been forced to choose between his faith and his business. That is a real hardship. It is not good for Mr. Brah, for Subway or for Alberta.

(The sad result in this case is that Mr. Brah has sold five of the nine Subway shops he once owned in the Edmonton area, and has placed the other four outlets up for sale. "We worked very, very hard," he said Thursday, "but what has happened now, it's broken our hearts.")

Canada is not France, where the head of a government panel has declared Muslim head scarves to be a sign of aggression and extremism. Hardip Singh Brah's turban is Hardip Singh Brah's concern, and no one else's.


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