The City of Toronto didn’t react as quickly as it should have when a complaint came in weeks ago regarding a discriminatory masking policy for workers at homeless shelters and similar congregate settings, says Mayor John Tory.

The policy in question stems from the city’s masking mandate. The mandate requires all staff working in homeless services settings who come into contact with clients suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19 to wear a N95 respiratory mask. It also applies to settings where there is a suspected or declared outbreak of the virus.

According to the city, all workers must be properly fitted for these protective devices and having facial hair prevents that from happening.

Back on June 7, Balpreet Singh of the World Sikh Organization (WSO) of Canada wrote to Tory and members of city council to demand an “urgent resolution” after more 100 than security guards employed by a third party were reportedly laid off or reassigned to lesser positions due to non compliance with the policy.

But the city only took action on Monday after several media reports detailing Singh’s matter.

It said that it has now instructed security companies under contract to accommodate their employees with religious exemptions.

Speaking to the media this morning, Tory said he’s “not happy” the situation got to this point as it should have been resolved “before it ever came to public attention.”

“(These workers) deserve better than that. … There’s always an accommodation,” he said, adding he’d also like to see the involved contractors – ASP Security Services, Garda World, and Star Security – apologize.

“I full expect city staff will continue to investigate how this came about because really it’s a failure in process.”

Tory, who also called the situation a matter of companies failing to “understand the city’s policy,” said he’s “very disappointed this (matter) wasn’t addressed earlier on.”

He went on to reiterate that there’s no city policy that allows contractors to dismiss their employees based on religious beliefs or to fail to accommodate them, adding they’ve made that clear now “if it wasn’t before.”

Tory said the city is “insistent” any worker who was demoted or dismissed because of their religious requirements be “immediately accommodated” and “reinstated.”

This recent incident with the Sikh community is one that affects all faith groups, Tory said, as others may also question if their religious rights will be accommodated, if they land a job with or are contracted by the city.

“We have to do better than this. … (Toronto) a city that welcomes and embraces people of all faiths and accommodating those faiths is something that’s equally clear,” he said.

Singh, of the World Sikh Organization, said aside from rehiring the affected workers and compensating them for lost wages, the “clean-shave” N95 mask fitting policy needs to be reviewed or even scrapped.

“A regular medical mask is more than sufficient for 99.9 per cent of situations and I don’t understand in what situation a security guard would be close enough or in a situation where they’re intubating someone. It makes no sense,” he said.

At this point, the city said it is evaluating the situation, however – for now – the policy remains in effect.