Discrimination against bearded Sikh officers by RCMP must end immediately: WSO

RCMP are the only police force in Canada that refuse to accommodate bearded Sikh officers

THE World Sikh Organization of Canada said on Thursday it is disappointed by the RCMP’s refusal to accommodate bearded Sikh officers.  The officers have been removed from frontline policing duties since March 31 due to their religiously mandated facial hair. 

The affected officers have been placed on desk duty for almost six months as the RCMP says that the N100 mask does not seal with facial hair.  The wearing of the mask, however, is not mandatory and left to front line officers’ discretion and only necessary after an assessment of risk factors. 

The WSO was contacted by affected Sikh officers in April 2020.  The officers reported that they had been reassigned to administrative duties which many find less than meaningful.  No attempt has been made to accommodate Sikh officers with alternative PPE that would work with their religiously mandated facial hair. 

The refusal of the RCMP to accommodate Sikh officers is particularly concerning given that Sikh officers serving in other police forces across Canada continue to serve on the frontlines and have not been removed from their duties. 

It is unclear as to why the RCMP is requiring members to be fitted for the N100 when medical professionals have been advised both by the provinces and federally that regular medical masks will suffice, unless they are involved with an aerosol generating medical procedure (AGMP), in which case an N95 will be needed.  There is no apparent reason as to why the RCMP requires a more stringent standard than medical professionals.

The WSO wrote to federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair and RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki in early June requesting that they intervene to resolve the situation.  WSO has also written to Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand and Innovation, Science and Technology Minister Navdeep Bains requesting their assistance in resolving the situation.  No response was received from the ministers’ offices. 

In a response to the WSO dated July 1, 2020,  Gail Johnson, Chief Human Resources Officer for the RCMP, confirmed that bearded Sikh officers remained on desk duty and that the RCMP “value the dedication and commitment that Sikh members have for our organization and regret that members find the duties they have been temporarily assign to in the wake of COVID-19 unfulfilling”.  

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 front line workers.  Sikh officers continue to serve in every other police force in Canada.  

“Taking Sikh officers off the front lines is inappropriate and constitutes discrimination.   

“We have tried for months to assist the affected RCMP officers and advocate on their behalf but with no success and no response from the federal government. The discrimination against bearded Sikh officers must end immediately.”

LIBERALS’ LACK OF ACTION

THE Globe and Mail reported on Thursday that a spokeswoman for federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said in a statement that the reports from the WSO are a concern and it is essential the RCMP provide necessary PPE in a timely manner to Sikh officers. “We have raised this matter with the RCMP, and expect that this be rectified as quickly as possible,” said press secretary Mary-Liz Power.

Power said all officers must be given equal opportunity to serve their community while practising their faith, adding, “They must not experience discrimination based on religion.”

Tim Uppal

Former cabinet minister in Stephen Harper’s government, Alberta’s Conservative MP Tim Uppal told The Globe and Mail that now, more than ever, the RCMP should not be excluding anyone based on their religion or their race, and pointed out: “There are other police forces who do not have this issue, have not sidelined their members.”

He said Blair should explain why calls for action from the community were ignored when they were raised.

He said the Liberals talk a lot about systemic racism, but “when it comes to action, we see now again that they’re actually ignoring calls for action.”

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