Change regulations to accommodate Sikh paramedics, says Ontario NDP

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The Ontario Public Services Employees Union (OPSEU) which represents Peel paramedics is calling on the Ontario government to change regulations that could prevent Sikh people and others with unshorn hair and beards from fully serving as paramedics.

Recently a Peel paramedic Harkarn Sihota was in the news after he was placed on administrative duty and later a paid leave of absence while working part-time for the city of Hamilton’s paramedic services because he could not wear a helmet and respirator required by provincial health standards unless his face was shaved.

A grievance report was filed by the union on Sihota’s behalf with Hamilton paramedic services for a religious accommodation, and Arbitrator Paula Knopf said in her decision “to exclude capable and valuable paramedics … is an intolerable result.”

Knopf found Hamilton failed to accommodate Sihota based on his religion, and ruled he was entitled to $3,000 in damages but could not require the service to resume his “on the road” duties.

OPSEU Local 277 (Peel) was able to find a solution that allowed Sihota to wear a helmet and respiratory protection, which is not technically compliant with ministry of health standards.

For his part, Brampton MPP Gurratan Singh cited Sihota’s case during the Dec. 12 question period at Queen’s Park and asked Premier Ford and the Ministry of Health to fix the regulations, which he said could force Sikh paramedics in Ontario to leave the profession.

“In Ontario, Sikh paramedics are being told they have to choose between their faith and their profession,” Singh said.

A decision is expected to be made in the near future. -CINEWS

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