RCMP eases mask policy for bearded members, allows return to front line in some cases

OTTAWA — The RCMP has eased restrictions that sidelined bearded officers, including some Sikh and Muslim members, from front-line policing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Difficulties with properly fitting a mask over religiously mandated facial hair meant some Mounties have been assigned to desk duty in recent months.

That prompted the World Sikh Organization of Canada to press the government to come up with a solution.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Public Safety Minister Bill Blair also stressed the need to accommodate members.

The RCMP says affected members across the country may return to operational duties, with a mask, under certain circumstances.

Bearded members will be sent out to calls only if the risk of exposure is low or multiple responding officers will be present.

The RCMP says at no time will officers or the public be placed at undue risk.

In addition, the return to operational duties will always rest with the affected members, said a statement Thursday from Gail Johnson, the RCMP's chief human resources officer.

"Should they prefer to be assigned to other policing duties as a safety precaution, we will continue to make that accommodation," she said.

"Each case will be assessed on an individual basis and in cases where we find accommodations were not appropriate, we will address them through internal processes."

While certain risks are being reduced, all risk cannot be completely eliminated, Johnson said. "This is the nature of police work."

The national police force will continue to work on finding longer-term solutions that fully accommodate all bearded members, the statement added.

"We are committed to resolving this issue as quickly as possible in order to help us further advance the important work that is ongoing in the RCMP to enhance diversity, equity, accountability and trust."

Earlier this week, the RCMP said it was in a unique position compared to other police services because it is subject to the Canada Labour Code and Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations when it comes to personal protective equipment, known as PPE.

"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," the RCMP said.

The World Sikh Organization of Canada said at the time that if the problem was indeed regulatory, the government should step in and solve the issue, particularly given that the organization first raised the issue in early June.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 1, 2020.

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