Even if other officers choose whether or not to wear a mask during the pandemic, Sikh and Muslim RCMP officers stated that they were removed from the field and given desk duty as the force believed their beards were interfering with protective masks. According to the World Sikh Organization, most of the impacted Mounties are in B.C., which also has the most RCMP officers in the country. Still, it’s a nationwide rollback of the RCMP’s religious exemption for facial hair.
WSO spokesperson and legal counsel, Balpreet Singh, said they were feeling exasperated, feeling as though their hands are tied. He added that though they did not know what to, they did not want to speak out against their management against other senior officers. He said they had been living with that situation for almost six months now. Vancouver police said all frontline officers who have appropriate PPE are encouraged to use when operationally feasible, and no person had been reassigned because of facial hair. Delta police said their officers choose if to wear PPE like masks during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Singh said it was unacceptable discrimination. Kash Heed, the former West Vancouver police chief, was annoyed when he heard that Sikh and Muslim Mounties were assigned to desk duty, which carries a stigma. Kash said the point had to be made, and numerous organizations are operating under pandemic circumstances. Kash added that he uses the term ‘leadership negligence’ in this issue, and other problems in the RCMP, where they have the failed policy. He confirmed that they did not seem to think it out or want to learn from other departments worldwide on addressing this particular issue.
RCMP National Services Cpl. Caroline Duval said that according to the current legislation, the RCMP is not mandated to allow members to be fit tested with beards or to select PPE that is not approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). She added that the Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations ask that people follow the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) Group standard for respirator-fit testing, which requires a clean shave explicitly.
However, this explanation contradicts with B.C.’s top doctor, who argues that no one from the RCMP has contacted her office for advice, and sees no issues with bearded police carrying out their typical duties.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said that people are doing something like intubating somebody where they know it can be transmitted that way when they are talking about respirators and the need to wear a respirator because they are providing care and assessing somebody who has a respiratory illness like tuberculosis or COVID. Bonnie said one cannot get an effective seal if he has facial hair. Bonnie believes there are very few cases where a police officer would need to wear a respirator as they are not involved in resuscitating people. She said many other types of masks could be used safely for other types of activities police officers are involved in.