As France obsesses over what women ought to be wearing — or not wearing — on its beaches, Canada and Scotland have adopted new rules allowing female police officers to sport the hijab in an attempt to attract more Muslim women to their respective forces.
In Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) recently unveiled the new internal policies, which would add the traditional head-covering to the iconic red Mountie uniform.
"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 spokesperson for Canada's minister of public safety said in a statement.
The move makes the RCMP the third police force in Canada to make the change.
Phil Gormley, Chief Constable of Police Scotland, heralded his force's change as an ideal way to show that Muslim women are welcome on the force.
"I am delighted to make this announcement and welcome the support from both the Muslim community, and the wider community, as well as police officers and staff," Gormley said in a statement.
"I hope that this addition to our uniform options will contribute to making our staff mix more diverse and adds to the life skills, experiences and personal qualities that our officers and staff bring to policing the communities of Scotland," Gormley went on.
Police Scotland could use the help. According to a report published in June by the police agency, less than three percent of their applicants came from non-white individuals.
"Based on these figures, it is clear to see that challenge Police Scotland faces," the report concluded, noting that they would need some 650 more non-white applicants to meet their target. "Considering current application trends this would appear to be unachievable."
The policies make the two countries amongst the first to make broad exceptions for the hijab, alongside Sweden and Norway. In the United States, there are no broad rules regarding the headscarf. The St. Paul Police Department, in Minnesota, is one of the few that permits the hijab, and recently swore in its first hijab-wearing officer.
Western police forces have recently been forced to confront a lack of diversity in their ranks, faced with a litany of police shootings in minority neighbourhoods and with the rising problem of homegrown radicalization.
The changes also come at a time when hate crimes against Muslims, especially Muslim women, are on the rise throughout North America and Europe.
The moves have been celebrated from a litany of groups, but have also attracted opposition from the expected anti-Muslim channels, who blasted the move as Islam infiltrating secular life.
Of course, Canada has some experience in allowing religious headwear in their police forces. Sikh police officers won the right to wear the turban while on duty over 20 years ago. One of the beneficiaries of that policy, Harjit Singh Sajjan — who served both in Afghanistan with the Canadian Armed Forces, earning the Order of Military Merit, one of the country's highest honours; and with the Vancouver Police Department — is now Canada's minister of national defense.
In the United Kingdom, Sikh men recently won the right to wear the turban in most workplaces. Police officers, however, cannot carry a firearm if they do so, unless a helmet can fit over their head-dress.
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