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Supreme Court rules niqab allowed in court in some cases

OTTAWA (NEWS1130) – The Supreme Court of Canada, in a split decision, has ruled that in certain circumstances, a woman can wear a religious veil known as a niqab while testifying in court.

The landmark ruling in a case that pitted religious freedom against an accused person’s right to a fair trial will affect future cases involving religious accommodation in courtrooms.

In this latest case, a Muslim woman sought to wear a niqab while testifying against two men she claims sexually assaulted her when she was a child.

In a rare 4-2-1 split decision, the Supreme Court referred the matter back to an Ontario trial judge that had just started hearing the case in a preliminary hearing.

The high court outlined a series of considerations that trial judges must weigh in determining whether a witness is allowed to cover their face while on the witness stand.

“Future cases will doubtless raise other factors, and scientific exploration of the importance of seeing a witness’s face to cross-examination and credibility assessment may enhance or diminish the force of the arguments made in this case,” the majority judgement said.

“At this point, however, it may be ventured that where the liberty of the accused is at stake, the witness’s evidence is central to the case and her credibility vital, the possibility of a wrongful conviction must weigh heavily in the balance, favouring removal of the niqab,” it adds.

“The judge must assess all these factors and determine whether, in the case at hand, the salutary effects of requiring the witness to remove the niqab outweigh the deleterious effects of doing so.”

The controversial issue, which has divided the Muslim community, has reared its head in recent years, leading to a new law in Quebec for public sector workers and new federal immigration rules that ban face coverings while taking the oath of citizenship.

Due to a publication ban, the woman can only be identified as N.S.

The two accused claim the Charter of Rights and Freedoms allows them to confront their accuser and observe her facial expressions as she testifies.

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Bad enough with, aboriginal rights; then turbans, and kirpans; plus changing “Merry Christmas” to “Happy Holidays,” now it’s niqabs – what’s next we all have to pray toward Mecca regularly each day? Just think what that would do for rug sales……This nonsense has got to stop.

December 20, 2012 at 12:17 pm
Just how dumb are we in Canada anyway...

we are bending over backwards to adopt “values” that are backward, repress women and just plain absurd. There have been countless women given refugee status in Canada because they were obliged to wear the niqab/hijab/veil so on the one hand this is repression worthy of asylum in Canada and on the other hand, ok go ahead and Canada will adapt. Witness demenour is often a crucial part of assessing credibility and determined to a degree by facial expression but no, call it religion and you can wear what is virtually a mask to hide your face. So what’s next, support from the courts for the right to mutilate your female child’s genitels, the right to divorce your spouse with just a few words spoken, stopping girls from getting an education?

December 20, 2012 at 11:08 am