THE VOICE on Wednesday was the first to report that RCMP sources had told us that “all bearded officers – and that would include Sikh and Muslim officers who keep beards as part of their religious beliefs – have been taken off the road and moved to desk jobs.”
The next day, the World Sikh Organization reacted to the news, saying that they had been contacted by affected Sikh officers back in April.
And federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair’s spokesperson told The Globe and Mail that the matter had been raised with the RCMP, and it was expected that it would be rectified as quickly as possible.
On Friday, CTV reported that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said: “The presence of diverse Canadians in our police forces and in all our systems of authority is something extremely important for all Canadians, and it is something that I certainly hope the RCMP rectifies quickly and it shouldn’t have happened in the first place.”
He added: “I was very disappointed to hear of this issue with the RCMP because I do know that many other police forces and other organizations have figured out ways of upholding health and safety standards, without needing to create discrimination against certain individuals because of their religion.”
The Globe and Mail reported on Thursday that a spokeswoman for 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.”
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.”
Meanwhile, the CBC reported that the RCMP says that it is bound by the Canada Labour Code and Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations, which require a clean-shaven face for proper use of N95 masks and that the force does not have the authority to change the rules around personal protective equipment (PPE) under current legislation.
In that case, The VOICE would like top know why the senior management of the RCMP did not have the common sense to see the implications of their move and take it up immediately with the federal Public Safety Minister.
THE VOICE’S REPORT ON WEDNESDAY
RCMP sources told The VOICE on Wednesday morning that all bearded officers – and that would include Sikh and Muslim officers who keep beards as part of their religious beliefs – have been taken off the road and moved to desk jobs.
We called the Surrey RCMP and the BC RCMP media section multiple times and informed them why we were calling, but they seemed at a loss about what to say.
We were told that Sikh, Muslim and other officers are extremely disturbed about this racist move – the excuse is reportedly about wearing masks in a safe manner. But the shocked officers want to know why other police departments and other outfits across Canada have not done this.
Former solicitor general Kash Heed lashed out at the RCMP, wondering if London’s Metropolitan Police was following the same policy. He said if this is COVID-19-related, why aren’t the RCMP taking direction from Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam or B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry?
“We have air force pilots, military personnel, crowd control officers, firefighters and police all over the world that have beards related to their faith that wear masks. Why is the RCMP so unique?” he added.
This appears to be just another blunder by RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki and the senior RCMP management and is bound to lead to more racism against Sikhs and Muslims by racists who just need any excuse to attack others.
Following The VOICE’s report on our website voiceonline.com on Wednesday (September 23), other media also started reporting on this and the World Sikh Organization responded on Thursday.
THE RCMP, after much internal discussion, responded on Wednesday afternoon sending the following email to The VOICE:
“You are correct that members who have shaving exemptions for medical or religious reasons have been impacted by our need to wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in response to COVID-19. The health and safety of our employees is a top priority for the RCMP. Safeguarding their well-being is an essential obligation as an employer and is critical to the safety of the public.
“We have heard the concerns of our members regarding the lack of safe facial Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) members with beards. As a direct result of these concerns, we have assessed a number of possible alternative PPE options that would not require a clean shaven face.
“Unfortunately, there is presently no evidence of a safe and proven alternative to the currently approved PPE that meets the unique uncontrolled setting in which our front-line members operate and that adheres to occupational health and safety regulations.
“That being said, we are concerned that our members are unable to serve in the capacities they wish to, and we will continue to explore options as they arise.
“We value the dedication and commitment that all of our members have for our organization, and we are striving to ensure these officers are reassigned to meaningful work with other units.
“We believe that all roles provide value to the organization and to the communities we serve, particularly in the wake of this global pandemic.”
ON Thursday, the World Sikh Organization of Canada said 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.”