Wednesday, September 28, 2022

City of Toronto apologizes for ‘no-beard’ mandate, reinstates sacked Sikh security men

TORONTO: Under fire for making 100 Sikh security guards lose jobs under ‘no-beard’ policy, the City of Toronto on Tuesday apologized to a prominent Sikh organization for “any delay” in reinstating the sacked employees.

The apology to the World Sikh Organization (WSO) comes after a complaint the group made last month, saying more than 100 Sikh security guards were required to wear N95 masks sealed directly to the face — a rule that wouldn’t allow for their traditional facial hair. Here is the news release issued by the City of Toronto:

“News Release

July 5, 2022

Today, the City of Toronto is providing a further update on its work to ensure security contractors accommodate all employees following a complaint from the World Sikh Organization of Canada.

The City abides by all human rights legislation and requires all contractors to also comply with City’s Human Rights and Anti-Harassment/Discrimination Policy (HRAP) and all applicable human rights legislation.

The City of Toronto apologizes to the World Sikh Organization of Canada for any delay in addressing this issue and ensuring security contractors were offering religious accommodations.

The City of Toronto formally contacted its contracted security service providers and restated its expectations that they appropriately accommodate any Sikh security guard employees who have requested religious exemptions and reinstate any employee whose employment was terminated, immediately. The City will not accept any contractors failing to accommodate religious freedoms.

The City has been investigating a complaint from the World Sikh Organization of Canada that it received in June that some of the City’s contracted security service providers did not offer appropriate accommodation to their employees who maintain facial hair for religious reasons. Contracted employees who maintain facial hair were not fitted for protective N95 respirators required by public health directive in shelter settings where a COVID-19 outbreak is suspected or present.

Effective today, the City of Toronto will immediately permit “under-mask beard covers” as a reasonable accommodation option for individuals who maintain facial hair as a tenet of their faith and are required to be present at City sites with protective N95 respirator requirements. This includes contracted security guards at City shelter locations. Under-mask beard covering is a method of applying a tight-fitting mask over a beard that covers the chin and cheeks, and ties in a knot at the top of the head. An N95 mask is then worn over the cover. The technique, also known as the Singh Thattha Method, is used by many Sikh people in the medical community and has been found to be highly effective in respirator fit testing.

City officials reached out to the World Sikh Organization of Canada today to provide an update on the under-mask beard cover accommodation option that is being put into practice effective immediately. This option was proposed by the World Sikh Organization of Canada and the City is grateful for this information. The City also committed to follow-up meetings with the organization.

The City has also communicated its expectations with its security services contractors, including that they provide appropriate accommodation to their employees. The City has confirmed to its contractors that with the option of under-mask beard covers now available, any impacted contracted security guard staff should be reinstated to these City shelter locations immediately and they should be appropriately compensated for any financial impact.

The City is committed to ensuring its policies are inclusive. They are assessed routinely to ensure they respect the rights and freedoms of all those who work for the City – be they full-time or part-time employees, or employees of contractors”.

Balpreet Singh, the organization’s legal counsel, said, “”I’m glad that the city has finally arrived with a solution that works for these Sikh security guards. But … I’m a little bit disappointed it took this long.”

In a report published by CBC News, Toronto Mayor John Tory said he “strongly” believes that no one should be subject to discrimination for their religious beliefs.

“I’ve asked city staff to work with all contractors involved to immediately resolve this issue and to be absolutely clear that we respect people’s human rights, including freedom of religion,” he added.

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