Surrey-Green Timbers MLA Rachna Singh. (Hansard TV)

MLA wants guarantee for religious dress in B.C. legislature

Surrey’s Rachna Singh says ‘uncovered’ could mean no turban

Assurances from Speaker Darryl Plecas and the B.C. legislature’s senior administrator that religious symbols such as a turban or Indigenous headdress are acceptable to wear in the chamber aren’t good enough for a Surrey MLA.

Surrey-Green Timbers MLA Rachna Singh has written to Plecas, asking him to make an official ruling when the legislature resumes sitting Monday. Singh’s letter points to a standing order that states: “Every member desiring to speak is to rise in his or her place, uncovered, and address the speaker.”

Singh quoted a recent dress code update for MLAs and legislature staff from Acting Clerk Kate Ryan-Lloyd, which states: “For certainty, Indigenous attire, traditional cultural attire and religious attire continue to be considered appropriate dress.” She asked Plecas to further clarify the situation.

“Leaving issues of personal identity to interpretation or popular precedence makes those protections, by definition, precarious,” Singh wrote Thursday. “Adopting changes to this rule will ensure the legislature remains a welcoming space for all Canadians.”

Indigenous attire, turbans and other traditional clothing have been worn in the legislature many times with no questions asked. Speakers have also allowed unconventional costumes to mark special events, such as the annual practice of former Burnaby MLA Harry Bloy to wear his Boy Scout leader uniform to mark the achievements of Scouts Canada.

The legislature update of staff and ceremonial dress code stems from the controversy that erupted last year over spending and travel by former clerk Craig James and former sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz. They were accused of charging made-to-measure suits and cufflinks from a London tailor shop while on a 2017 business trip. Plecas, newly elected as Speaker, was also on the trip that involved stops at the British and Scottish parliaments, and a tour of St. Andrews and its famous golf course.

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After being suspended with pay pending the outcome of a police investigation, James said the suits were from the same tailor that supplies judge-style robes and ceremonial uniforms based on the British royal family’s Windsor uniform, worn by the sergeant at arms and B.C.’s lieutenant governor.

In a letter to MLAs and staff Thursday, Plecas said it is up to MLAs to update the standing orders for dress code.

“This is a matter that is best determined through the normal channels of consultation amongst the house leaders,” Plecas wrote.

Plecas’s letter also announced that sergeant-at-arms security staff will no longer enforce dress code for employees and reporters who have access to the speaker’s corridor and other secure areas surrounding the legislative chamber.

“I know that employees will exercise excellent judgment in determining what is appropriate dress,” Plecas wrote, adding that the legislative press gallery executive will determine what is suitable attire for members and guest journalists.


@tomfletcherbc
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