People wear face masks as they walk along a street in Montreal, Canada.(AP)
People wear face masks as they walk along a street in Montreal, Canada.(AP)

Mask norms relaxed for Sikhs in Canadian police

“We asked the RCMP to review its policies to make sure that this example of systemic racism is put aside,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
Hindustan Times, Toronto | By Anirudh Bhattacharyya
UPDATED ON OCT 02, 2020 09:36 PM IST

Canada’s premier law enforcement agency, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), has relaxed norms on wearing of medical grade masks that were considered discriminatory and forced many bearded officers, mainly Sikhs, off the frontlines.

Those rules were implemented in April following the Covid-19 pandemic. This matter was addressed by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the House of Commons this week. “This is absolutely unacceptable. We asked the RCMP to review its policies to make sure that this example of systemic racism is put aside.”

In a statement, RCMP’s Chief Human Resources Officer Gail Johnson announced the relaxation with regard to personal protective equipment (PPE).

She said, “Impacted bearded members across Canada may return to operational duties wearing the appropriate PPE assigned to them based on a risk assessment carried out by the commanding officers in their respective provinces.”

She added that bearded members will be assigned to operational duties “only if the risk of exposure is low or multiple responding officers will be present. At no time will we accept putting our officers or the public at any undue risk.”

The decision will also depend on a risk assessment undertaken by respective commanding officers, while the RCMP will continue to make an accommodation for officers who prefer other policing duties as a safety precaution.

“The issue of personal protective equipment (PPE) and impacts on RCMP members with facial hair during the pandemic has been a topic of public debate the last few days. I share the frustrations of our police officers across Canada who are personally affected,” Johnson stated.

As yet, appropriate fitting respirators for those with facial hair does not yet exist , she said

But the RCMP has begun work with Innovations Solutions Canada to explore the research and development of inclusively designed PPE and to ensure regulatory requirements support safe and non-discriminatory practices across Canada. “We are still working to identify or create a mask that meets our front-line needs as well as occupational health and safety regulations.”

There had been reports of Sikh officers being taken off the frontlines and given desk assignments as the RCMP had deemed that when it came to respirators, “one of the most common causes of a breached seal is facial hair.”

In her statement, Johnson said, “We are committed to resolving this issue as quickly as possible in order to help us further advance the important work that is ongoing in the RCMP to enhance diversity, equity, accountability and trust.”

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