Surrey Leader: Apology for beard cutting incident not enough, Sikh leader says

A non-profit group that represents Sikh interests in Canada says the Fraser Health Authority (FHA) must do more than say it is sorry about an incident where a nurse cut off the beard of an elderly Sikh man shortly before he died.

WSO President Prem Singh Vinning

Published: March 26, 2010 2:00 PM

A non-profit group that represents Sikh interests in Canada says the Fraser Health Authority (FHA) must do more than say it is sorry about an incident where a nurse cut off the beard of an elderly Sikh man shortly before he died.

A statement issued Thursday by the Ottawa-based World Sikh Organization of Canada (WSO) says the FHA must take concrete steps to make sure staff understand the principles of the Sikh religion, which maintains uncut hair as a symbol of faith.

The incident at a FHA-run New Westminster care facility came to light this week.

"Although FHA has apologized for the incident, hollow apologies without corrective measures to ensure such incidents are not repeated are not enough to satisfy the Sikh community" the WSO statement says.

The FHA services an area (including Surrey) that has "the highest concentration of Sikhs in Canada" the WSO statement notes.

After a 2008 incident where a Sikh patent's beard was cut without permission, the WSO says it was promised by the FHA that steps would be taken to prevent a repeat.

At the time, it offered to provide the training free of charge, the WSO says, but it was refused.

“The Sikh community has always stepped up to the plate to

help Fraser Health," says WSO president Prem Singh Vinning, referring to a recent fund-raising campaign for Surrey Memorial Hospital.

"In order to retain the community’s support and confidence, Fraser Health needs to make sure that an incident like this is never repeated” Vinning added.

The WSO statement calls for "a formal education program for all staff in dealing with the needs of the Sikh community" and again offers to provide training without charge.

When she issued an apology for the incident, FHA spokesperson Joan Marshall said in the future, site orientations for new staff will include spiritual care training that includes the tenets of the Sikh faith.

A spiritual care pamphlet will also be made available to all staff, Marshall said, and other steps will be taken to ensure staff are aware and sensitive.

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