Toronto to accommodate, compensate Sikh security guards laid off over facial hair

Security contractors with the City of Toronto will accommodate and rehire Sikh employees who were removed from their positions due to a conflict between their facial hair required by their religion and COVID-19 rules, the city said in a statement on Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Sikh security guards removed from their positions in Toronto due to a conflict over facial hair required by their religion and COVID-19 masking rules will be rehired and compensated for their lost hours.

The World Sikh Organization had complained to the city last month on behalf of more than 100 Sikh security guards, who it said were required to wear N95 masks sealed directly to the face — a rule that wouldn’t allow for facial hair.

The city said Tuesday that it had directed its security contractors to accommodate and rehire Sikh employees who were removed from their positions and appropriately compensate them for any financial impact.

Read more: City of Toronto directing contractors to accommodate security guards requesting religious exemptions

“The city will not accept any contractors failing to accommodate religious freedoms,” it wrote in a statement.

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The city also said it apologizes to the World Sikh Organization for any delay in addressing the issue.

The World Sikh Organization said 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.”

Singh said the city also agreed to a suggestion from the organization to introduce a technique called “under masking” to help accommodate Sikh employees. The technique involves using a cloth or latex mask over facial hair before covering that mask with an N95.

“It’s been scientifically proven to form an effective seal,” Singh said.

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The city confirmed later on Tuesday that it will immediately permit the technique.

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.

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“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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