From The National Post
Ontario court to rule if woman can wear niqab while testifying
For the first time in Canada, an appellate level court is going to rule on whether a woman can testify in court while wearing a niqab.
The Ontario Court of Appeal is scheduled to release its ruling Wednesday in the case of a 32-year-old Muslim woman who says she was sexually abused as a child by two male relatives.
The decision will be issued just days after the constitutional council in France approved legislation that will ban the wearing of a burqa or a niqab in public places. Women who wear the face-covering clothing could face fines of nearly $200. Anyone in France who forces a woman to wear a burqa or niqab could be sentenced to a year in jail.
In the case before the Ontario Court of Appeal, the woman was originally ordered by a provincial court judge in October 2008 to remove the Muslim veil, which covers most of her face except for her eyes, while testifying at the preliminary hearing of the defendants.
The alleged sexual assault victim refused and the Ontario Court of Appeal heard arguments from the Crown and defence, as well as several other groups, during a two-day hearing in June.
The Ontario government urged the court not to issue a “blanket statement” and instead set out a legal framework for courts to decide the issue on a case-by-case basis. The appeal court could for example, allow limited questioning of a female Muslim witness, to ensure that her religious reasons for wearing the niqab are legitimate.
A lawyer for one of the two defendants argued that there is a long-standing right to assess the demeanor of witnesses when they testify and the woman should have to remove the niqab. The Muslim Canadian Congress sided with the defendants and its lawyer told the court that wearing the niqab is a political statement and the issue is not about religious freedoms.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission and the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) argued in favour of the woman’s right to testify while wearing the niqab. The lawyer representing LEAF suggested the woman should not have to “relive being forcibly uncovered,” if ordered to remove the niqab in court.