While France Bans Burkinis, Canada Welcomes Hijabi ‘Mounties’

Muslim women can now wear headscarves while serving in Canada's famous mounted police force.

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 19:  Canadian Mounties await the arrival of Queen Elizabeth II and Duke of Edinburgh to officially reopen Canada House on February 19, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by )
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 19: Canadian Mounties await the arrival of Queen Elizabeth II and Duke of Edinburgh to officially reopen Canada House on February 19, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by )
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 19: Canadian Mounties await the arrival of Queen Elizabeth II and Duke of Edinburgh to officially reopen Canada House on February 19, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by )

With the possible exceptions of maple syrup and ice hockey, nothing symbolizes Canada quite like “mounties,” the police officers who patrol on horseback Canada’s rugged frontiers and historically wore scarlet tunics, riding boots, and flat-brimmed campaign hats.

Now, some of those mounties will also be allowed to wear hijabs, in line with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s efforts to welcome people of different faiths into government service.

"This is intended to better reflect the diversity in our communities and encourage more Muslim women to consider the Royal Canadian Mounted Police as a career option," a spokesman for Canada’s public safety minister told the news wire service Agence France-Presse. The change was quietly introduced earlier this year but not reported until this week.

With the possible exceptions of maple syrup and ice hockey, nothing symbolizes Canada quite like “mounties,” the police officers who patrol on horseback Canada’s rugged frontiers and historically wore scarlet tunics, riding boots, and flat-brimmed campaign hats.

Now, some of those mounties will also be allowed to wear hijabs, in line with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s efforts to welcome people of different faiths into government service.

“This is intended to better reflect the diversity in our communities and encourage more Muslim women to consider the Royal Canadian Mounted Police as a career option,” a spokesman for Canada’s public safety minister told the news wire service Agence France-Presse. The change was quietly introduced earlier this year but not reported until this week.

The uniform, a pastiche of British imperial army dress and the fashion sensibilities of the American West, has undergone few changes since its adoption in the 1800s. Originally, it was worn by an all-white and all-male gendarmerie force as they policed newly acquired territories in the west, enforcing Canadian rule over Native American tribes and dismantling an American whiskey smuggling network. Today, mounties typically wear modern police uniforms but will don the red jacket of their forebears for special occasions.

Women weren’t permitted to join the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) until 1975, and the first attempt, in 1990, to accommodate religious minorities by letting Sikh officers wear turbans provoked public outcry.

Trudeau’s policy of protecting the rights of Muslims to freely express their religion comes as other Western nations take increasingly restrictive measures against public displays of Islamic faith. In France, a growing number of coastal towns are banning Muslim women from wearing full-body swimsuits, or burkinis, in keeping with their beliefs.

The style of hijab approved by the RCMP doesn’t encumber officers and can be easily taken off, according to an internal memo obtained by Montreal daily La Presse.

Muslims comprise the second-largest religious group in Canada, a group that is reportedly growing faster than any other religion.

Fueled by fears of Islamic radicalism, Canada’s conservative parties have opposed Trudeau’s refugee asylum policy, with his plan to accept 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of this year more or less evenly splitting public opinion.

Photo credit: TIM P. WHITBY/Getty Images

Henry Johnson is a fellow at Foreign Policy. He graduated from Claremont McKenna College with a degree in history and previously wrote for LobeLog. Twitter: @HenryJohnsoon

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