When Halima Muse, a Muslim woman and employee of Garda working as a security screener at Pearson Airport decided she was no longer comfortable with the uniform she had worn for the last five years, she decided to make one of her own. She created an ankle-length skirt using material she felt matched the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) uniform. The problem? Yes, it was much longer than the CATSA issued knee-length skirt, but was not CATSA-approved. Muse, who is responsible for screening passengers and luggage, was suspended in late August for wearing the homemade garment.
When the news hit the national papers CATSA asked its uniform supplier to manufacture two long skirts for the woman to consider.
the body responsible for the screening hundreds of thousands of
passengers at Canada’s airports, was made to look like an employer
insensitive to the needs of one employee. The woman filed a complaint
with the Canadian Human Rights Commission that she was being
For five years the woman wore CATSA-issued uniform pants but
for some reason she declared after all that time that she wasn’t
comfortable wearing them because they showed the shape of her body. She
also wouldn’t wear the CATSA-issued skirt, which falls at the knee,
because she felt it was too short. Her supervisor at Garda asked CATSA
what they should do. Garda was told CATSA provides two options: the
knee-length skirt or the pants.
There should have been no doubt in anyone’s mind — uniforms
are issued for a reason and worn so that the public can easily identify
those in a position of authority. It has long been a issue of concern
that the public have a clear understanding of who is a police officer
and who is a security guard.
“We were looking at this as not a question of whether this
would be knee-length or a little bit longer but the overall policy: Do
we need to offer another option for women for religious reasons? We’re
trying to be respectful and at the same time, be true to the uniform,”
says CATSA spokesperson Anna-Karina Tabunar.
In the meantime, Muse was given an administrative job in which she was not required to wear a uniform.
CATSA has 5,200 screeners. In the five years it has been in operation
there has never been an issue about the length of its uniform skirt.
CATSA met with Muse, a representative from her union, a representative
of Garda and someone from a Muslim organization and presented her with
the new, longer skirt. She agreed it was suitable, retracted the Human
Rights complaint and returned to her job as a screener.
It all boils down to the purpose of a uniform — security personnel must
be easily identifiable and comply with established expectations of what
a security guard looks like.
CATSA’s decision to have its uniform provider create a skirt
specifically for this woman may open the door for others to ask for
special privileges. The province of Ontario just went through months of
debate on what private security guard uniforms should look like during
review of the Private Security and Investigative Services Act. The
discussions even examined dye lots, the size of lettering on uniforms
and how they should differ in colour and look from public police
officers. CATSA may find it has closed a closet and opened Pandora’s
Jennifer Brown, Editor