Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

New officer a symbol of diversity

Police academy grad first in city to serve while wearing turban

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It's a police uniform that's the first of its kind in the city.

Only three years ago, 35-year-old Gurvinder Singh Chakal moved to Canada from Punjab, India. Now, he's a member of the Winnipeg Police Service and will be wearing a turban as part of his standard uniform.

Chakal was one of 26 new WPS graduates honoured at a special ceremony Friday.

"It's (a) really big step, I am so proud of myself," said Chakal, who was a teacher in India.

"I was looking for something... I wanted a profession after settling down (in Canada) for three years. I saw the openings and I decided to go for this and I was so fortunate I was able to make it."

The former 7-Eleven employee said he wears the turban for cultural and religious reasons, and has the blessing of the WPS brass.

"This my traditional uniform. I used to wear (a) turban from the schooling days," he said.

The move isn't uncommon in Canada, with Sikh officers in cities such as Ottawa and Vancouver also wearing the turban for religious reasons. Chakal, who speaks Punjabi and Hindi, said he's received a great reaction so far.

"People are very curious to see me (wearing it), and they always seem happy to see me," he said. "People say, 'You look nice' and 'We have never seen (someone) like you.' "

Chakal was joined at the ceremony by his family, including his two-month-old son.

When he was accepted as a recruit earlier this year, he told officials he wanted to wear the turban, and has donned it ever since. The only exception was during some physical training when he removed it and wore a small piece of cloth, instead.

The graduating class raises the WPS's local ranks to about 1,350 police officers. The class also included one officer who will join the Morden Police Service.

Of the new graduates, four are women and 23 are men. Three individuals are aboriginal, while four are visible minorities.

Winnipeg Police Service Chief Keith McCaskill was ebullient at the ceremony. The graduate class includes his daughter, Const. Dawn McCaskill, and the two exchanged a hug onstage as he presented her with her graduation certificate.

McCaskill offered words of wisdom to the class of new officers.

"You're going to see people at their worst, and you're going to see people at their best," he said.

"All those days that you're out there, you're going to educate yourself more and more and more, and you're going to become a better person."

He said policing is about public service.

"We're here to support the citizens of Winnipeg, we're here to do as much as we possibly can to make their lives better," McCaskill said. "Most people, in fact, all people, want a good life for themselves, they want a good life for their kids, no matter what part of the city you're in, and that's what we have to do, we have to work with them to make sure that they have a better life for those kids."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 23, 2010 B1

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