‘Clean shave’ directive: Toronto makes an exception for Sikh security guards

Updated on Jul 06, 2022 08:13 PM IST
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”, the city said
Nearly 100 Sikhs had been removed from their posts for not meeting the ‘clean shave’ requirement. (REUTERS/FILE)
Nearly 100 Sikhs had been removed from their posts for not meeting the ‘clean shave’ requirement. (REUTERS/FILE)

The city of Toronto on Tuesday said it is making an exception to its “clean shave” directive for security personnel posted at shelters impacted by Covid-19, after nearly 100 Sikhs were removed from their posts for not meeting the requirement.

Contracted security providers were formally contacted and the Canadian city “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,” authorities said in a statement.

The city recently mandated that all guards be fitted with N95 respirators fitting directly on to the face, disallowing any facial hair. As a result, security agencies contracted by the city laid off or transferred Sikhs who refused to shave their beard for religious reasons.

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”.

The 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, the release said.

Toronto has communicated to its security 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 matter was raised by the World Sikh Organisation (WSO). In a statement issued on Monday, it said it wrote Toronto Mayor John Tory and all members of Toronto City Council on June 7, seeking “an urgent resolution to the current situation”.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Anirudh Bhattacharya is a Toronto-based commentator on North American issues, and an author. He has also worked as a journalist in New Delhi and New York spanning print, television and digital media. He tweets as @anirudhb.

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