Ontario eyes religious accommodations for Sikh paramedics

The case of a Sikh paramedic taken off the road because his beard would impede a respirator in situations involving hazardous airborne pollutants has prompted a review of safety regulations with an eye to accommodating religious beliefs.

“This is something that we’re looking at because we want to have inclusive workplaces for everyone and we recognize there are a number of Sikh paramedics that do wonderful work,” Health Minister Christine Elliott said Thursday.

Her remarks came in response to concerns from New Democrat MPP Gurratan Singh (Brampton East), who raised a grievance filed by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union on behalf of a paramedic working for the City of Hamilton.

“In Canada, no one should be prohibited from working because of their faith,” Singh said, noting the paramedic in question has grown the traditional Sikh beard known as a kesh.

“Despite repeated requests to the ministry to provide an exemption or a waiver that would respect the human rights to Sikhs, the ministry has taken no action.”

Last week, arbitrator Paula Knopf issued a decision in which she stated “to include capable and valued paramedics such as this griever from performing to their full potential for land ambulance services is an intolerable result.”

Premier Doug Ford’s government has already provided a helmet exemption for Sikh motorcycle riders wearing turbans.

The arbitrator noted paramedic Harkarn Sihota — who worked part-time shifts in Hamilton in addition to his full-time job with the Peel Ambulance Service — was allowed to wear a different type of respirator on duty in Peel, which made “an accommodation for 22 of its Sikh paramedics.”