Sikh security guards forced out by City of Toronto’s no-beards rule to be reinstated

The City of Toronto has apologized to the World Sikh Organization of Canada (WSO) for any delay in addressing its complaint regarding a recently instituted no-beards rule which forced out around 100 Sikh security guards.

In a statement issued Wednesday morning, the City said that it will immediately permit “under-mask beard covers” recommended by the WSO 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. 

The new “clean shave” requirement for all security guards on city sites had resulted in the exclusion of Sikh security guards who maintain uncut hair as a tenet of their faith. Over 100 Sikh security guards had been removed from their jobs as a result, WSO said in a news release issued on Monday.

The new City of Toronto mandate requires all security guards to be fitted for N95 respirators that seal directly on the face. Facial hair is not permitted when performing fit tests.

In response to the new rule, City of Toronto security contractors such as GardaWorld, Star Security and ASP Security had removed Sikh security guards from City of Toronto sites.  Some Sikh guards have been laid off while others have been sent to alternative sites, the statement said.  Such relocations often come with a demotion in both rank and salary. In many instances, individuals who had been hired as supervisors or managers have been demoted to security guards. 

Notably, these Sikh security guards served through the height of the COVID pandemic wearing medical masks and were not required to be clean shaven. The new clean shave rules have been introduced at a time when visitors to City sites are no longer required to be masked. The clean-shave requirement is also not being enforced for staff and workers at city sites, the WSO had pointed out. 

The WSO said it had written to Mayor John Tory and all members of Toronto City Council on June 7 asking for an urgent resolution to the current situation but received no substantive reply.

“Mayor John Tory and the City of Toronto must find a solution for these Sikh security guards and other affected employees.  Those Sikh guards who have been removed must be immediately reinstated,” WSO President Tejinder Singh Sidhu said in the statement. 

On Monday night Mayor Tory responded in a social media post that said people of all religions must be respected.

“I fully expect City staff to continue investigating this complaint and to make any and all changes necessary, up to and including legal action, to make sure Sikh residents and people of all religions are fully respected,” Tory tweeted.

The City of Toronto also released a statement that evening saying it will ensure security contractors accommodate all employees following the World Sikh Organization of Canada complaint.

“The City is working directly with security guard companies contracted to its shelter system to ensure these accommodations are provided and no contract employee is unable to work as a result of public health masking directives,” the statement read.

“As part of its investigation, the City will be looking at its legal options, up to and including terminating the contracts of any contractors found to be in violation of City policy or human rights legislation. The City does not tolerate, ignore, or condone discrimination, and is committed to promoting respectful conduct, tolerance and inclusion, always.”

Effective Wednesday, the City of Toronto will permit “under-mask beard covers” with protective N95 respirator requirements. 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. 

This option was proposed by the WSO of Canada.

The City says it has also communicated its expectations with its security services contractors, including that they provide appropriate accommodation to their employees. 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, officials said.

In a similar situation, bearded Sikh RCMP officers were removed from frontline policing duties in March 2020 as the RCMP required that all officers be fitted with N95 masks.  The WSO says the officers were allowed to return to duty in October 2020 after its advocacy.  

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