It’s legal for Waterloo, Ont., police to beard criminals

Court upholds arbitrator’s ruling on cops’ facial hair

The Ontario Superior Court has upheld an arbitrator’s ruling that police officers in Waterloo Region, Ont., can wear beards on the job.

A bylaw of the Waterloo Regional Police Services Board permitted beards only if the Chief of Police gave permission to certain plainclothes officers, officers whose religion required them to wear beards, or officers who had a medical need to grow facial hair.

In 1998, Constable Matthew Jeary arrived at his job with the Waterloo police wearing several days’ growth of beard. After he ignored three orders to shave, a hearing officer found him guilty of three counts of workplace insubordination.

His police association grieved, but not concerning the discipline imposed. They objected specifically to the no-beards policy, as applied generally to all police officers.

Arbitrator Paula Knopf ruled that the policy was unreasonable. The board, Knopf wrote, “has not demonstrated that there is any legitimate rationale for such a broad prohibition.

“A beard policy which makes allowance for health and safety, religious, medical and investigative purposes would be legitimate and reasonable. Further, a policy which regulated the appearance and maintenance of beards would also be reasonable.

“But an absolute prohibition against wearing beards when no objective rationale has been demonstrated for such a policy leads to the inevitable conclusion that the policy is unreasonable because it subjects an employee to disciplinary sanctions while it imposes significantly upon their individual rights.”

An important consideration in Knopf’s decision was that 93.56 per cent of Ontario police officers were already permitted to wear beards.

And Knopf specifically noted that the board could legitimately insist that beards be neat and not interfere with the use of equipment (such as gas masks) and with other health-and-safety concerns.

On judicial review by the court, the board argued that Knopf lacked jurisdiction to hear the grievance: It arose from enforcement of the bylaw, the board said, not from an interpretation of the collective agreement.

As well, the board claimed, the dispute was a disciplinary matter, over which the police chief had jurisdiction.

But the court looked to the collective agreement and its provision that employees could grieve if they felt they had experienced unreasonable discipline. This gave Knopf jurisdiction over the no-beards policy.

As well, the court has pointed out that in this case the police association complained about the reasonableness of the policy, not about the discipline, which was following a separate appeal route.

“No individual officer was a party to the grievance. The resolution of the grievance had no disciplinary consequences for any particular officer.”

The court thought it preferable, in any case, to promote an “obey now, grieve later” policy, rather than oblige an officer to disobey such a policy before being permitted an adjudication on its propriety.

The latter would only make the workplace a more contentious environment, the court notes.

As well, “it cannot be,” the court has held, “that an association would have no remedy for a breach of the collective agreement involving working conditions, absent disobedience by an officer.”

An officer could still be disciplined for the alleged violation of an order, the court points out, even if an arbitrator was considering a grievance concerning the policy behind the order.

The disciplinary body (the Ontario Civilian Commission on Police Services) “deals only with the misconduct of the individual officer,” the court points out, in proceedings that are “ill-suited to resolve more general policy issues arising out of the collective agreement.”

For more information:

Re Waterloo (Regional Municipality) Police Services Board and W.R.P.A., Ont. Sup. Ct., Court File No. 12/2000, June 15/00.

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