Toronto to reinstate Sikh security guards who lost job over clean shave requirement

Over 100 Sikh community members, who lost their jobs for keeping a beard, will be reinstated under the updated regulation of COVID-19 Protocol in Toronto, Canada, as per an official statement. The order came after Toronto apologised to the World Sikh Organization (WSO) of Canada for “any delay in addressing this issue and ensuring security contractors were offering religious accommodations.”

“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,” said a statement from the City of Toronto.

The issue

More than 100 Sikh Security Guards in Toronto were fired from their jobs or demoted after refusing to cut their beards to wear a face mask. Canada houses almost half a billion Sikhs, making up almost 1.4 % of the country’s overall population. Interestingly, it also has more Sikh MPs in its parliament than India itself.

Under the city’s current policies, all employees at homeless shelters and other congregate settings must wear an N95 respirator when exposed to people with COVID or amid conditions wherein infection is suspected. As a part of the policy, all public service employees are required to be clean-shaven to ensure that their face masks fit appropriately. However, when members of the Sikh community refused to oblige, citing religious principles, they were either laid off or demoted. 

For Sikhs, Kesh holds a religious meaning and symbolises their respect for God. Speaking to CBS News, one employee at ASP Security Birkawal Singh Anand said that he felt “very humiliated” when he was asked to chop off his beard. “If you ask me to clean-shave my beard, it’s like peeling off my skin.” He said he and nearly 100 other guards were given an option to move to a lower payroll or be terminated.

“Sikh police officers and other frontline care workers have served throughout the pandemic without being required to compromise their faith,” the WSO president, Tejinder Singh Sidhu, said in a statement. “There is no reason why Sikh security guards at the City of Toronto cannot be accommodated by the law.”

Govt to re-employ ousted sikhs

Ever since the incident gained momentum, many companies have said that they “offered other and equivalent opportunities” to the employees till the rules are in place. However, the incident has triggered outrage in rights groups who’ve said that it is “discriminatory” against minorities.  The city is now working to re-employ those 100 Sikhs who were fired after they refused to shave their beard, as reported by The Guardian. 

“I’ve asked city staff to work with all contractors involved to immediately resolve this issue and to be clear that we respect people’s human rights, including freedom of religion, and we expect all contractors to do the same and to properly accommodate employees,” Toronto’s mayor, John Tory, said in a statement. “No city policy allows contractors to ignore or dismiss their employees’ religious beliefs or to fail to accommodate them.”

Update on the City of Toronto’s response to the World Sikh Organization of Canada’s complaint against contracted security guard companies. News Release: https://t.co/HWJLDCpsVc

— City of Toronto (@cityoftoronto) July 5, 2022

(Image: Justin Trudeau/Twitter)

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