The issue of personal protective equipment (PPE) and impacts on RCMP members with facial hair during the pandemic has been a topic of public debate the last few days. I share the frustrations of our police officers across Canada who are personally affected. While these dedicated and valued members have been accommodated for medical or religious reasons in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, over the last few months they have not been able to serve Canadians on the front lines as we worked to find equipment and operational solutions.
The RCMP is committed to fostering an environment that is diverse and inclusive. The RCMP is also committed to the health and safety of our members in a working environment that is subject to the Canada Labour Code. While our research during the pandemic indicates that the right kind of facial PPE technology does not yet exist, we have also been working since the early days of the pandemic to develop new operational mitigation procedures to mitigate health and safety risks and enable all of our members to perform front-line duty.
Canada Labour Code regulations require the wearing of respirators (such as N95 masks) when there is risk for aerosolization of the virus. PPE must balance officer safety with an officer's ability to function safely, doing the least to compromise mobility, senses of hearing and vision, and to allow quick access to intervention options.
Police officers are required to respond to a wide range of situations and threats and are trained accordingly. These situations can often be dynamic, moving from low-risk to high-risk without warning. For example, our members' work routinely requires them to wade into crowds of people, both indoors and outside; to deal with agitated and impaired individuals in any number of settings; operate emergency vehicles; access and safely deploy all police intervention options; and to transport persons in their care or custody within very confined spaces.
When it was determined that respirators would be required for COVID-19, it became clear that there was no available PPE technology that could provide our bearded members with adequate respiratory protection under the terms of the Canada Labour Code and Canada Occupational Safety Regulations. The impacted members were temporarily re-assigned in April and we understand the frustration that caused. The decision to temporarily reassign bearded members was a pandemic-related health and safety issue and in no way was meant to hinder the ability of our members to do their job. The health and safety of all employees will always be a top priority for the RCMP.
We have heard the concerns of our members – especially Sikh and Muslim members - regarding the lack of safe facial PPE for members with beards. Throughout the summer, we have been examining mask technologies that would meet Canada Labour Code standards. This research has taken into consideration various health authorities and the perspectives of impacted members. We have been and will continue to be guided by research and science as it continues to evolve. We have also begun work with Innovations Solutions Canada to explore the research and development of inclusively designed PPE and to ensure regulatory requirements support safe and non-discriminatory practices across Canada. We are still working to identify or create a mask that meets our front-line needs as well as occupational health and safety regulations.
Over the past months we have also been developing an operational solution that takes into account risk and mitigation strategies as well as advice from medical and operational experts to keep our bearded members safe and return them to operational duties. It has always been our goal for our bearded members to be provided with meaningful work. While we are mitigating certain risks, all risk cannot be completely eliminated. This is the nature of police work.
Impacted bearded members across Canada may return to operational duties wearing the appropriate PPE assigned to them based on a risk assessment carried out by the Commanding Officers in their respective provinces. Calls for service will be triaged from call centres, with bearded members being assigned to respond operationally only if the risk of exposure is low or multiple responding officers will be present. At no time will we accept putting our officers or the public at any undue risk. The decision to return to active operational duty is based on the risk assessment carried out by the Commanding Officer however, the decision to return to operational duties will always rest with the affected members. Should they prefer to be assigned to other policing duties as a safety precaution, we will continue to make that accommodation. Each case will be assessed on an individual basis and in cases where we find accommodations were not appropriate, we will address them through internal processes.
Ensuring the health and safety at work of all employees is an essential obligation as an employer and is critical to the safety of the public. Together, we will continue the important work of finding longer-term solutions that fully accommodate all bearded members. The RCMP values the dedication and commitment that all RCMP members have for our organization. We are committed to resolving this issue as quickly as possible in order to help us further advance the important work that is ongoing in the RCMP to enhance diversity, equity, accountability and trust.
Chief Human Resources Officer