Sikhs forced off the job due to City of Toronto rule that security guards can’t have beards

The World Sikh Organization (WSO) is demanding the City of Toronto change what it calls a “discriminatory” rule included in its contracts requiring all security guards to be clean-shaven.

The organization said Monday the rule barring beards has cost some 100 Sikh their jobs.

The WSO said the city has been mandating security guards, who work for contractors like GardaWorld, ASP Security and Star World, wear N95 masks while on the job at congregate settings since January. 

The concern, according to an email from one security company reviewed by CBC News, is that facial hair reduces the effectiveness of N95 masks when it comes to protecting against COVID-19. 

However, bearded Sikh security guards are struggling with the rule.

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

Anand says he applied for a religious accommodation when he was notified of the requirement last month, but was told that would mean being relegated to a lower position with the company with lower pay as well. He said he had to choose between that, finding a different job, getting laid off, or shaving his beard. 

CBC News has reached out to ASP Security and other companies with questions about how they are implementing the city policy. 

For Sikh devotees, leaving hair uncut is an important tenet of their faith, the WSO said.

Balpreet Singh, a lawyer with the organization, said Toronto’s rule feels particularly discriminatory because this policy is being brought in while almost all other pandemic restrictions have been dropped in Ontario — including most mask mandates.

“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.'”

City says it’s reviewing situation

The City of Toronto said in an email statement that it’s aware of the WSO’s complaint and said all of the workers affected are employed by contractors and not its own corporate security division.

“The City is in the process of reviewing the matter and making inquiries with the contractors,” the statement said.

The WSO’s Singh said his organization has attempted to work with contractors in recent months to bring in alternative options to keep Sikh guards on the job and keep them healthy, but those efforts have been met with “nothing more than platitudes.”

Singh said his organization will consider legal action if there’s no change.

“This is clearly a violation of human rights protections in Ontario,” he said.

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