NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh responded with poise Wednesday to a man’s unsolicited advice to “cut off” his turban to look “like a Canadian.”
“I think Canadians look like all sorts of people,” Singh told the man while shopping in Montreal’s Atwater Market. “That’s the beauty of Canada.”
When the man responded with the adage that, “in Rome, you do as the Romans do,” Singh politely replied: “But this is Canada, you can do whatever you like.”
The moment was captured on camera by CBC News. At the end of the brief clip, the man can be heard saying: “I hope you win.”
Watch the clip from “Power & Politics”:
Singh, a practicing Sikh, is the first non-white leader of a major federal party in Canada’s history.
Vancouver Liberal candidate Harjit Sajjan tweeted Wednesday that comments such as those in the clip have no place in society.
“No matter your religion, ethnicity, or cultural background, we are all Canadians,” he said.
The exchange came hours before a French-language debate in Montreal, hosted by the TVA television network, where the issue of religious symbols is expected to be discussed.
Quebec passed a controversial secularism law this summer that prohibits public servants in positions of authority, including police officers and teachers, from wearing religious symbols such as turbans and hijabs on the job. The restriction does not apply to people hired before Bill 21 passed into law in June.
Singh has said he opposes the law but has ruled out challenging Bill 21 in court if he becomes prime minister. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May have also said they won’t intervene. Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said last month that while party is “weighing whether to intervene,” he does not think it would be “productive” at this point.
Watch: Jagmeet Singh “excited” ahead of TVA’s leaders’ debate.
Though the law is already facing legal challenges, polls suggest it is popular in the battleground province, where 78 federal seats are up for grabs in October.
Quebec Premier François Legault has urged all federal party leaders to butt out of the issue.
The NDP held 14 seats in Quebec at the dissolution of Parliament in September. The province was instrumental to the so-called “Orange Wave” that saw the NDP vault into Official Opposition status in 2011 by winning 58 of the then-75 seats in Quebec.
Just before the official launch of the election campaign, the NDP released a French-language ad that shows Singh tying his turban and talking about his pride in his identity.
Speaking with reporters Wednesday, Singh said that while it’s clear that some people in Canada hold prejudices about his turban, that is nothing new for him to face.
“There’s always been challenges for people based on who they are and I am not a stranger to that,” Singh said.
“I faced prejudices myself but many Canadians do and I’m confident, though, that if we go past those prejudices, that we can actually find so much that we have in common and we can build a better Canada where we focus on how we solve problems, as opposed to our differences.”