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RCMP OKs hijabs for its female officers

A member of the RCMP Musicla Ride leads his horse out of the barns at Spruce Meadows in Calgary, Alta., Friday, Sept. 12, 2014.
A member of the RCMP Musicla Ride leads his horse out of the barns at Spruce Meadows in Calgary, Alta., Friday, Sept. 12, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Jeff McIntosh

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police is allowing its female officers to wear hijabs in a move to encourage more Muslim women to consider joining the Mounties, according to Public Safety Canada.

“The commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police recently approved this addition to the uniform to allow ‎female members of the Muslim faith to wear a hijab if they so choose,” said Scott Bardsley, a spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, in an email to Global News.

“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.”

READ MORE: RCMP changes ‘outdated’ recruitment rules

The hijab joins the iconic RCMP uniform comprised of a red serge tunic, leather riding boots and wide-brimmed felt campaign hat.

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The uniform, recognizable around the world, dates back to the late 1800s and the frontier North-West Mounted Police, which was responsible for enforcing the law in Canada’s western provinces and Arctic territories, according to the RCMP website. The original outfits were inspired by British military uniforms at the time.

Members of the RCMP march during the Calgary Stampede parade in Calgary.
Members of the RCMP march during the Calgary Stampede parade in Calgary. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Amira Elghawaby, a spokesperson for the National Council of Canadian Muslims, said it’s a welcome and “logical” step for the RCMP.

“Our police forces need to reflect the populations they serve,” Elghawaby told Global News. “So it’s quite natural they would try to recruit from more women, including women who decide to wear the hijab.”

Elghawaby said that allowing female Mounties to wear a hijab removes a barrier for anyone wanting to serve in the RCMP.

“When many members of racialized or minority communities look at police forces they wonder if there is a place for them there,” she said. “I think that it may be difficult for women who wear hijab to consider a career in policing if they feel there may be barriers. It’s wonderful the RCMP has taken this move.”

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Three types of hijabs were tested last month before one was approved, according to an internal memo between Goodale and RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson, obtained by Montreal’s La Presse

“The RCMP-issued hijab has undergone rigorous testing to ensure the design meets the highest standards of officer safety,” RCMP Staff Sgt. Julie Gagnon said in email. “The RCMP hijab is designed to be unobtrusive, easily removable and present the least possible risk to the member.

Gagnon said the RCMP currently has no members requesting to wear the hijab on duty.

READ MORE: All RCMP cadets now receiving carbine and active shooter training

In 1990, the RCMP made the controversial decision to allow Sikh officers to wear turbans as part of their uniforms. The change in dress code policy was sparked by RCMP recruit Baltej Singh Dhillon who had petitioned the Mounties to wear a turban over the regulation stetson.

The RCMP is now the third police force in Canada to add the hijab option after Toronto and Edmonton, Bardsley said.

He added that police in the U.K., Sweden, Norway, and some states in the U.S. have adopted similar policies.