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by Nick Westoll and Tarun Paul Singh

More than 100 Sikh security guards at companies contracted by the City of Toronto have been removed from their postings for not shaving their faces even though it is a central requirement of their faith, employees and advocates say.

Birkawal Singh Anand told Omni Television in an interview on Monday that he was hired by ASP Security around two months ago and was assigned to work at one of the City of Toronto’s 24-7 respite centres. But on June 19, Singh Anand said he was told about the so-called “clean-shave” directive.

“If you want to work for next week onwards, you have to follow the City directive mandate and that is you have to be clean shaved,” he said.

“All the guards I know who chose to keep their beard are removed from the site. We are no longer working there.”

Singh Anand said the choice between honouring their faith and meeting bureaucratic requirements is concerning.

“Everyone is disturbed because for us keeping no beard is something like peeling off our skin … That is like a uniform to us,” he said, fearing this type of requirement can be expanded in the future.

“They’re asking for the beard, tomorrow they can come for the turban or they can ask for other things right?”

Singh Anand said he will be meeting with a legal representative later this month to discuss what happened.

On Monday, the World Sikh Organization of Canada (WSO) once again highlighted its plea to the City of Toronto for action back in June after the “clean-shave” requirement was put in place at sites operated by the City’s Shelter, Support and Housing Administration division.

The policy in place relates to the fitting of N95 respirators, which calls for the masks to be fitted against bare skin.

The WSO called out the requirement, noting many City of Toronto properties do not require visitors to wear masks. The organization also said the “clean-shave” rule isn’t being enforced more broadly.

“These Sikh security guards served through the height of the COVID pandemic wearing medical masks and were not required to be clean-shaven,” the WSO stated.

“In response to the new rule, City of Toronto security contractors such as GardaWorld, Star Security and ASP Security have removed Sikh security guards from City of Toronto sites.

“Some Sikh guards have been laid off while others have been sent to alternative sites. Such relocations often come with a demotion in both rank and salary. In many instances, individuals who had been hired as supervisors or managers have been demoted to security guards.”

Meanwhile, Singh Anand also noted there are facial hair requirements in the Muslim faith as well. He went on to question why the directive appeared to be just for security guards, adding clients and staff can wear surgical masks or even no masks in certain situations.

Singh Anand went on to say emergency services crews who attended the sites didn’t appear to have to adhere to the policy requirement.

When contacted by CityNews on Monday to ask about the WSO’s concerns, a spokesperson for the City of Toronto said municipal officials received a complaint about “a few of its security guard contractors.”

The spokesperson noted that all contractors must agree to follow the City of Toronto’s human rights and anti-harassment/discrimination policy, and all relevant human rights laws.

“The City is reviewing the complaint which alleges that certain contractors failed to accommodate their own employees in relation to the City’s Shelter, Support and Housing Administration (SSHA) division’s requirement for the use of N-95 masks for all staff and contractors who may come into contact with any person who has or is suspected of having COVID-19,” Erin Whitton wrote.

However, it was noted the City’s mask policy also makes room for accommodations.

“Employees of contractors who seek accommodation should have their requests assessed in accordance with the contractors’ own human rights policies,” Whitton said.

“The City has a standardized process for addressing complaints about contractors, which requires contractors to review and respond to the complaint under the contractor’s appropriate internal process.”

CityNews also contacted the three security companies cited by the WSO (GardaWorld, Star Security and ASP Security) Monday afternoon to ask for a response to the letter by the WSO. However, responses weren’t received by the time of this story’s initial publication. This story will be updated if responses are received.