The move was lauded for expanding opportunities to more people
Applicants for correctional peace officers (CPO) in Alberta will no longer be mandated to shave their facial hair as part of the requirements before landing the job, according to an announcement from the provincial government.
Prior to this, officers are required to be clean-shaven so respiratory masks can fit as tightly as possible around their face. The respiratory protective equipment aims to prevent or mitigate the risk of officers' exposure to highly toxic substances.
But as a result, this prevented observant Sikhs, who maintain uncut hair as an article of faith, from applying as CPO for religious reasons.
"This puts not only Sikhs but many other Albertans in an impossible situation. They must either violate their religious beliefs or give up on becoming a CPO," said Devinder Toor, Member of the Legislative Assembly for Calgary-Falconridge, in a statement.
"Due to this requirement, many Sikhs did not even apply. This is a completely unacceptable situation that no Canadian of any background should ever have to experience," added Toor.
Harman Kandola, vice-president for Alberta, World Sikh Organization of Canada, also said they have been approached by several Sikhs who had to forego their application as CPO because of the requirement.
"We had been approached by several Sikhs who wanted to apply to be Alberta correctional peace officers but did not want to violate the tenets of their faith," said Kandola in a statement.
With the revised policy issued by the Correction Services division, however, job postings requiring applicants to be clean-shaven have been removed.
"The revised policy means applicants with facial hair and medical or religious exemptions can now apply to be a correctional peace officer," announced the provincial government.
"Abolishing this job requirement recognises an individual's right to practise their faith when applying for a job and doing their duties," it added.
The revised policy comes as the province's newly purchased personal protective equipment can now help accommodate facial hair.
"The new equipment will allow officers, regardless of religion or medical requirements, to complete their duties in a safe manner," said the provincial government.
The revised policy was met by praises by various groups and government officials.
"My sincerest thanks to the Alberta government for their quick response and initiative in finding a solution that enables front-line Sikh officers to serve their province while upholding their religious beliefs," said Toor.
Kandola also welcomed the initiative to accommodate members of the Sikh faith who maintain uncut beards.
"We are grateful to Alberta Corrections for having found a solution that works for observant Sikhs," said the official.
Justice Minister and Solicitor General Tyler Shandro also aired his praises to the Correction Services division for the revised policy.
"I commend the Correctional Services division for rectifying this situation and for sourcing new personal protective equipment that will allow front-line correctional peace officers who are observant Sikhs to stay true to their faith and fulfil their duties in a safe manner," said Shandro.
According to Amanpreet Singh Gill, president of the Dashmesh Culture Centre, the revised policy will expand opportunities to all individuals who want to become CPOs.
"We at Dashmesh Culture Centre are happy the policy from 2016 has been abolished. This gives more equal and fair opportunities to all individuals looking to become members of the correctional peace officers profession."