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Ontario NDP calls for Sikh paramedics to be exempt from wearing certain helmets

December 23, 2019
By Salmaan Farooqui

TORONTO (CP) — Ontario’s New Democrats are calling on the Progressive Conservative government to exempt Sikh paramedics from having to wear a specific respirator that would be impeded by long beards.

NDP lawmaker Gurratan Singh says a recent change in regulations means a new respirator doesn’t work properly for Sikh paramedics who practise kesh, keeping their beards and hair uncut.

Singh says the issue stems from the introduction of a new helmet, which in turn requires the new respirator model that is impeded by long beards.

He says the previous helmet and respirator combination did not have the same issue.


A spokeswoman for Ontario’s Ministry of Health said they’re aware of the situation and are working with the Ministry of Labour and the paramedic services. She said any changes to the regulations would be communicated “shortly.”

Singh cited the case of a Sikh man who was no longer allowed to work in the field with the Hamilton Paramedic Service because of the regulation, sparking his call for action.

“In 2019 in Canada, no Canadian should be forced to choose between their profession and their faith,” Singh said in an interview Friday. “No one should be prohibited from a line of work because of their faith.”

A spokeswoman for the Hamilton Paramedic Service said in a statement that the agency had petitioned the Ministry of Health to change the standards, but the ministry declined.

“In the event the Ministry of Health adjusts their standard to allow for this type of religious accommodation there will be no barrier to qualified Sikh paramedics practising kesh performing full and normal duties as a paramedic,” Michelle Williams said.

Peel Regional Paramedic Services said they are able to accommodate Sikh paramedics because there are so few situations when a paramedic has to wear a helmet and a respirator at the same time.

“There’s such a low, low percentage of times — almost none have come up with our service,” said spokesman Brad Bowie.

“We honour the religious freedoms of our paramedics.”

The Tory government has already introduced an exemption to allow turban-wearing Sikhs to ride motorcycles without helmets.

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