First Sikh RCMP officer to wear turban will receive honorary degree from KPU

Thu, Feb 13, 2014

Metro Vancouver, B.C. - The RCMP officer credited with increasing acceptance and equality among Canada’s national police force will receive an honorary degree from Kwantlen Polytechnic University this spring.

Staff Sgt. Baltej Dhillon, who is the Non Commissioned Officer in charge of the RCMP’s Federal and Serious Organized Crime intelligence unit, is a KPU criminology alumnus who never anticipated the media firestorm and subsequent federal policy change that would ensue when he initially told an RCMP recruiting officer he wished to wear his turban while on duty.

It was a trying time for the young Sikh, but he looks back now without a single regret.

“It was definitely not anything I saw coming, and nor was it something I thought I would have to overcome to serve as a police officer in Canada,” says Dhillon, a Surrey resident.

KPU president and vice-chancellor Alan Davis lauded Dhillon for the courage he’s shown in both his personal and professional lives.

“Baltej has given other Sikhs in Canada the opportunity to achieve their dreams without compromise, and for that reason and many others, he is an exemplary recipient of our honorary degree.”

Born and raised in Malaysia, Dhillon lost his father to complications from the flu when he was just 16. The tragedy prompted his family’s move to Canada on a winter day in 1983 with only $400 between Dhillon, his mother and two sisters.

In his early twenties, Dhillon enrolled in the criminology program at Kwantlen and started volunteering with his local RCMP detachment.

Although he initially wanted to become a lawyer, even back then Dhillon demonstrated a particular aptitude for police work and applied to the RCMP instead. His refusal to remove his turban in favour of the traditional RCMP Stetson divided the country, but on March 16, 1990 the Canadian government announced policy changes that would allow Sikh members to wear their turban will on active duty in the RCMP, and Dhillon became the force’s first turbaned cadet. And later, he had tears in his eyes when he was presented with his badge.

“It was a long journey and in some ways a very hard journey,” he recalls. “It was a very powerful moment for me and I will never forget it.”

In his RCMP Red Serge and turban, Dhillon became a symbol for equality, acceptance, the changing face of the RCMP and Canadians in general. It wasn’t a role he asked for, so when the RCMP recruited the next turbaned Sikh cadet seven years later, Dhillon phoned the young man to offer a warm welcome.

“I said, ‘I’ve been waiting on you, so now we can share the load.’”

Dhillon’s aptitude as an investigator landed him on the Air India task force and the Robert Pickton serial murder investigation. Dhillon received a Commanding Officer’s Commendation in October for his work on the Pickton case.

Dhillon is reluctant to take credit for his many successes without acknowledging his faith, and his late father, Nachattar Singh Dhillon.

“My father was a humble man who moved through life with great integrity and nobility. He gave me the anchors I needed and relied on when I came face to face with the dark parts of my journey to becoming a police officer.”

He adds, “I was a young boy who wanted to be a police officer and I certainly had the opportunity to do much more than that.”

Dhillon and fellow honorary degree recipients Christine Brodie and David Aisenstat will receive their awards at KPU’s spring convocation in May.

Brodie is a retired teacher in the Richmond School District who spent her entire career supporting students with autism, anxiety disorders, learning disabilities, social and emotional issues and other barriers to their education. She is also a longtime member of the KPU Foundation Board of Directors, and served as its chairperson from 2006-2011.

Aisenstat, who is president and CEO of The Keg Steakhouse & Bar chain, is well known for philanthropic efforts. He founded the Keg Spirit Foundation, which supports 300 Canadian charities, and personally climbed Mount Kilimanjaro to help raise funds for Free The Children.

Honorary degrees are awarded to those honoris causa in recognition of dignified achievements or outstanding service to the public. Nominees are exceptionally distinguished: scholars, creative artists, public servants, persons prominent in the community and the professions, and others who have made significant contributions locally, nationally, or globally. Members of the community-at-large are invited to nominate honorary degree candidates.

Kwantlen Polytechnic University has been serving the Metro Vancouver region for 30 years, and has opened doors to success for more than 250,000 people. Four campuses — Richmond, Surrey, Cloverdale and Langley — offer a comprehensive range of sought-after programs, including business, liberal arts, science, design, health, trades and technology, apprenticeships, horticulture, and academic and career advancement. Over 18,000 students annually have a choice from over 145 programs, including bachelor’s degrees, associate degrees, diplomas, certificates and citations. Learn more at

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Caption: TBA.

For more information, contact:
Hayley Woodin
Media Specialist