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100 Sikh security guards fired for not complying with Toronto’s mask mandate

Due to the City of Toronto’s mask requirement, which requires them to be clean-shaven, about 100 Sikh security guards were let go. Now, the city is being pressured by the World Sikh Organization (WSO) to change what it refers to as a “discriminatory” regulation.

Since January, the city has required security guards to work in places like homeless shelters while donning N95 masks, according to CBC News. The city has stated that N95 masks must be worn at all times by personnel of the Shelter, Support, and Housing Administration (SSHA) and that they must also be clean-shaven in order for the masks to effectively guard against Covid-19.

Leaving their hair uncut is a significant aspect of their devotion for faithful Sikhs. Out of respect for the perfection of God’s creation, letting one’s hair grow naturally is a custom known as Kesh.

The WSO wants the city to pay the Sikh guards back and rehire them.

“I feel very humiliated,” said Birkawal Singh Anand, who works for ASP Security. 

“If you ask me to clean shave my beard, it’s like peeling off my skin.”

Anand said that after being informed of the requirement last month, he requested for a religious exemption but was informed that by getting the exemption he will be demoted to a lower position with reduced pay until the mandates have ended and he can return to regular duties.

Many of the guards had to decide between new employment that didn’t give permanent residency, finding a different career, being laid off, or cutting their beards in order to pursue permanent residency.

Security contractor GardaWorld responded to CBC News’ request for comment by stating that all employees who are unable to meet the city’s health and safety requirements have been offered “alternative and equivalent possibilities inside the firm” until the ban is lifted.

Almost all other pandemic restrictions in Ontario have been lifted so Toronto’s rule feels especially discriminatory said Balpreet Singh, a lawyer with the WSO

“These security guards served at the height of the pandemic without these rules, when things were at their worst,” Singh said.

“But now when, you know, vaccines are very common and things are opening up, they’re being told: ‘No, you can’t serve here because you’ve got a beard.’”

Conservative Leadership Candidate Pierre Poilievre spoke out about the cities masking mandate for everyone and called it “ridiculous,” adding “Gatekeepers who made this dumb decision should be held accountable.”

“This is ridiculous. Having a beard doesn’t prevent someone from safely doing a job as security guard.”

“Anyone who lost their job (including Sikh security guards) should be reinstated & compensated for lost pay.”

“Gatekeepers who made this dumb decision should be held accountable.”

The City of Toronto stated in an email that it is aware of the WSO’s complaint and that all of the affected employees work for contractors, not the City of Toronto’s internal corporate security division.

According to the city, SSHA policy permits accommodations for employees; however, requests for accommodations from employees of contractors should be evaluated “in accordance with the contractor’s own human rights policies.”

If the city does not alter its regulations, the WSO warns that it may take legal action.

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