If you’ve ever traveled internationally, you know that when you land, you have to wait in line, go through customs, hand over your passport, and make some small talk with the agent while you wait for the passport to get stamped. A bit annoying, but hardly a big deal.
It’s a very different situation from a security check when you first get your ticket. In that situation, you can make a few requests. Don’t want to walk through the metal detector? No problem. An agent will just pat you down. Don’t want to do it publicly? No problem. They can take you to a separate room. The TSA makes clear, though, that the pat-down will be done by someone of the same gender.
You can understand why they would do that, but would the same-gender issue matter when you’re going through customs?
Apparently it did for a group of Hindu priests in Canada. What’s more is that the Canada Border Services Agency accommodated the request:
The [CBSA] officer said she and her colleagues — whose job involves screening passengers for entry into Canada after they arrive on international flights — were told before their shift not to switch work stations with other officers without first asking a supervisor.
“The reason given was that there were five individuals coming in who had requested only to be served by male officers,” said the CBSA officer in an exclusive interview with CBC’s Nil Koksal.
The five male travellers who made the request to CBSA are Hindu priests, called sadhus. Sadhus follow a strict lifestyle that requires them to avoid any contact with women.
The CBSA officer told CBC News that managers took steps to ensure the sadhus were processed separately and were only interviewed by male officers.
The issue isn’t about the religious reasons for their request (who cares?), but about how far the government should be bending over backwards to accommodate their wishes.
As the article states, would the same accommodation have been made if this was a white supremacist group not wanting a non-white officer? What about if an evangelical pastor didn’t want an officer wearing a turban? Where should the line be drawn, and how did this not cross it?
The CBSA hasn’t answered that question. In fact, their “code of conduct forbids officers from speaking to the media without approval from management,” which is why the whistleblower had to remain anonymous.
I’m also trying to figure out how the Hindu priests managed to do any of their traveling while avoiding women at all times. Were the flight attendants women? The pilots? The people sitting near them on the plane? The person who issued them tickets? The person who checked them on board the plane? Did they make the same requests then? If they didn’t, why would they make the request of the customs agent?
In all of those cases, no one would even think about telling the women to step aside. This isn’t a temple; it’s an airport. The sadhus live in a society where women and men (mostly) have the same jobs and they need to figure out how to deal with it. If they want to self-segregate within their temples or homes, so be it, but they can’t expect everyone else to act like their beliefs are acceptable.
There’s a place in our society for reasonable religious accommodation. This, on the other hand, is completely unnecessary and sets a bad precedent.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Cecil for the link)