The day after a man approached him in Montreal and suggested he cut off his turban, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said many such comments are meant as helpful advice, but are actually hurtful, demeaning and far too frequent in the lives of many Canadians.
In the incident Wednesday, a man at Montreal’s Atwater Market told Singh removing his turban would make him seem more Canadian.
Singh responded: “I think Canadians look like all sorts of people, that’s the beauty of Canada.”
“In Rome, you do as the Romans do,” the man said, to which Singh replied “But this is Canada, you can do whatever you like.”
The man then wished Singh good luck and said he hoped he’d win.
“In that case I think the guy was trying to be friendly, but that’s a thing when people say mean things, they don’t always intend for it to be mean,” Singh said Thursday.
Casual, well-intentioned remarks can still cause real pain, he said.
“A lot of Canadians face that all the time, casual comments that demean people because of their gender, their sexuality, the colour of their skin, their spiritual beliefs. That happens all too often,” he continued.
Singh said Canadians who get such comments should not feel they need to change who they are in order to “fit in, or to get ahead.”
The subject of race has played a significant role in the campaign so far, most stunningly in revelations that Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau wore blackface or brownface on several occasions before entering politics.
Singh, the first non-Caucasian federal leader in Canada’s history, repeatedly focused the conversation on that issue on how it would affect people of colour throughout the country.
The incident with the man Wednesday also added to an ongoing discussion in Quebec of that province’s controversial secularism bill, which bans the wearing of religious symbols for public servants in positions of authority.
Singh, a bearded and turbaned Sikh, has said the law is “legislated discrimination,” that he opposes it and it is “saddening,” but also that he would not interfere in an ongoing court challenge.
The NDP are defending 14 seats in Quebec, where the bill has majority public support according to recent polls.