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Home / World News / ‘Fitting’ mask controversy: Canadian PM Justin Trudeau criticises police for discriminating against Sikh personnel

‘Fitting’ mask controversy: Canadian PM Justin Trudeau criticises police for discriminating against Sikh personnel

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) instituted a policy that mandates front line officers wear “fitting” respirators that has apparently resulted in many Sikhs in the force being assigned desk jobs as their beards prevent wearing such masks

world Updated: Sep 26, 2020, 12:16 IST
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Hindustan Times, Toronto
A Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer stands guard outside the Senate of Canada prior to the Speech from the Throne on September 23 in Ottawa, Canada.
A Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer stands guard outside the Senate of Canada prior to the Speech from the Throne on September 23 in Ottawa, Canada. (AFP)

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has criticised the country’s premier law enforcement agency for a policy on wearing medical-grade respirator masks that appears to discriminate against Sikh personnel, who have been pulled off the frontlines amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) instituted a policy that mandates frontline officers wear “fitting” respirators that has apparently resulted in many Sikhs in the force being assigned desk jobs as their beards prevent wearing such masks.

Hitting out at the policy during a media interaction, PM Trudeau said, “It is something that I certainly hope the RCMP rectifies quickly and it shouldn’t have happened in the first place.”

He said he was “very disappointed” over the issue as “many other police forces and other organisations have figured out ways of upholding health and safety standards without needing to create discrimination against certain individuals because of their religion”.

In March, the RCMP issued a directive regarding these masks, and, according to the agency Canadian Press, it noted that “one of the most common causes of a breached seal is facial hair”.

The issue was flagged by the World Sikh Organisation (WSO), which said that due to this policy, nearly 30 Sikhs officers had been reassigned since March 31. It said it was contacted by some officers in April and they “reported that they had been re-assigned to administrative duties, which many find less than meaningful”.

The RCMP has argued that it has to operate under federal regulations unlike police forces in cities like Toronto, Vancouver or Montreal, where similar norms have not been implemented. It said it doesn’t have the authority to change the rules regarding personal protective equipment (PPE), as per a CBC News report.

In a statement, WSO president Tejinder Singh Sidhu said, “The RCMP are the only police force in Canada that refuse to accommodate bearded Sikh officers. Sikh RCMP officers have patiently waited for almost six months to be returned to active duty. However, there has been no desire on the RCMP’s part to address this situation. There is no reason that the RCMP should require a higher standard of PPE protection than any other police force in Canada or even medical frontline workers. Sikh officers continue to serve in every other police force in Canada.”

The stand appears to also have the support of Bill Blair, Canada’s public safety and emergency preparedness minister. CBC News quoted an emailed response from his office, which stated it is “essential for the RCMP to provide necessary PPE in a timely manner for Sikh officers. We have raised this matter with the RCMP, and expect that this be rectified as quickly as possible”.

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