City of Toronto apologizes after Sikh security guards let go over no-beard rule

The City of Toronto has formally apologized to a prominent Sikh organization for “any delay” in reinstating Sikh security guards let go over a no-beard policy that forced several to choose between their jobs and a key tenet of their faith.

Effective Tuesday, the city will immediately allow for “under-mask beard covers” as a form of religious accommodation for guards at city sites that require N95 respirators, the city said in a news release on Tuesday.

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.

The new method involves a tight-fitting covering worn over the beard, as well as the chin and cheeks, tied in a knot at the top of the head. An N95 mask is then worn over that covering.

“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,” the city said.

The measure comes after the city called on its contractors to “immediately” reinstate Sikh security staff let go over the rule. The city adds the guards “should be appropriately compensated for any financial impact.”

“The city will not accept any contractors failing to accommodate religious freedoms,” the release said.

The WSO said on Tuesday it had heard from the city that the affected guards would be compensated for lost hours of employment and returned to their positions.

“I’m glad that the city has finally arrived with a solution that works for these Sikh security guards,” Balpreet Singh, the
organization’s legal counsel, said in an interview.

“But … I’m a little bit disappointed it took this long.”

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 said in a written statement.

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

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