More than 50,000 Canadian kids participate in cadets.
For boys, joining the popular youth program means keeping their hair short.
However, that dress code is being question by a Shuswap family who believe the rule discriminates against boys.
Dani Hickman says her son, Gerrit, took to air cadets right away.
The only problem was his long hair. It didn’t conform to cadet dress standards for boys.
“He didn’t want to cut his hair. His hair has been a part of who he is for quite some time,” Hickman said.
However, Gerrit asked for and received a trial exemption.
Last year, the grade seven student was able to participate in his local squadron in Salmon Arm without chopping off his locks.
Instead, he followed the grooming rules set for female cadets when he was in uniform.
“I would braid it and loop it back up and tie it so it met that standard. Gerrit’s dress was impeccable,” Hickman said.
“We knew at the beginning it was just a local exemption and that if he did get accepted to…summer training, that he would have to cut his hair.”
His mother says that’s exactly what happened.
The family wrote to the Department of National Defence, hoping Gerrit might be able to keep his hair and attend the training course in Esquimalt.
However, the letter they received back did not offer any leeway, so Gerrit got his hair cut.
“He just said ‘Thank you’ and left. He was pretty upset.”
Now the family is hoping to see the rules changed for all cadets.
“Gerrit’s whole point is if girls can have long hair, why can’t he? It is gender inequality and he doesn’t understand what the big deal is,” Hickman said.
The commanding officer for cadets in B.C. said Gerrit’s stand is a good example of the active community participation cadets promote.
“I think what this cadet has done is an exemplary example of being involved, having a view, being willing to stand up for his beliefs and we encourage that,” Cdr. Brad Henderson said.
“I applaud him for that. I also applaud him for taking advantage of the opportunity he was given and adhering to the rules. He was given an answer to his request and he accepted that answer.”
Commander Henderson defends the cadets grooming policy.
Hickman said her son is not against grooming standards, but would like to see separate grooming rules for those with long hair and cadets with short hair, rather than having different rules for boys and girls.
“I’m hoping for more gender equality because that is really what this is about,” Hickman said.
It’s not clear if there will be more hair cuts in Gerrit’s future.
Cadets said dress standards can be reassessed if the concern is submitted to its dress committee through the proper channels.
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