News Agencies – November 1, 2012
When the Canadian Crown asked Peer Khairi the Afghan immigrant — accused of murdering his culturally permissive wife to preserve the family’s Muslim honour — whether he expected his children to adhere to Islamic dress codes, he became indignant. “This is a free country, [so] how could I deny people of such freedom?” Mr. Khairi testified, speaking through a Dari interpreter.
Now in its fourth week, Mr. Khairi’s second-degree murder trial in Ontario Superior Court is focused on the accused’s state of mind on March 18, 2008, the day he killed Randjida Khairi at the peak of a heated argument. The Crown characterizes the slaying as an honour crime, alleging Mr. Khairi was driven by his growing frustration at his wife’s willingness to embrace Canadian values and to allow their children to do the same. Mr. Khairi, who began testifying in his own defence this week, has offered a myriad of alternative motives: in one, he was provoked by his wife’s ceaseless insults; in another, he acted out of self-defence when she lunged at him with a knife; in a third, he killed her in a moment of blind insanity.
A Toronto-area Muslim woman who alleges she was sexually assaulted by two men – and wants to give evidence in court wearing a niqab – is appealing an Ontario Superior Court ruling that initially appeared to be in her favour, but did not fully grant her the right to testify with her face covered.
The woman, who is a Canadian-born mother in her 30s, is in the centre of what has become a controversial legal question as to whether a person can cite religious devoutness as justification for testifying with her face hidden. At a preliminary inquiry for two defendants last year, Provincial Court Judge Norris Weisman decided that the woman’s veil was a reflection of “comfort” rather than belief, and ordered her to remove it.
But in late April, Mr. Justice Frank Marrocco of the Ontario Superior Court ruled otherwise. While he did not grant the woman’s request outright, Judge Marrocco ordered the preliminary inquiry to convene two hearings to determine whether the woman’s beliefs are sincere, and if they are, whether testimony from a veiled witness would be admissible as evidence. The appeal means the preliminary hearing, scheduled to resume next month, could be postponed.
An Ontario Superior Court judge has ruled there is no blanket right of a Muslim woman to wear a veil while testifying in court. Justice Frank Marrocco did not issue a broad finding under the Charter of Rights, however, and instead suggested this should be decided by judges on an individual basis in court proceedings. The Superior Court judge released his ruling after hearing arguments this spring in a high-profile case about the clash between religious freedoms and the fair trial rights of a criminal defendant. “The Canadian approach may be a compromise,” wrote Judge Marrocco. ”
Judge Marrocco presided over the appeal of a 32-year old alleged sexual assault victim in Toronto, who was ordered to remove her veil while testifying at the preliminary hearing of the two defendants. If Judge Weisman determines that the statements given while wearing the niqab is not proper evidence, he may order the woman to testify again without the veil. If she refuses, the charges could be dropped against the two men.
Permitting alleged victims or any witness to wear a veil while testifying would fundamentally change core principles in the Canadian justice system, an Ontario Superior Court judge was told yesterday. Defense lawyer Jack Pinkofsky claimed that, “The face of justice cannot be faceless.” Superior Court Justice Frank Marrocco has been asked to decide whether an alleged victim in a sexual-assault case in Toronto will be permitted to testify while wearing her niqab.
The provincial court judge presiding over the preliminary hearing of the two defendants ruled last fall that the woman’s religious beliefs were not that strong and ordered her to remove the veil. She refused and was granted the right to appeal the decision to the Superior Court. The Criminal Code permits witnesses such as alleged sexual-assault victims or children to testify by video or behind a one-way screen. In both situations, the defense lawyer and accused can see the witness. The woman’s lawyer explained that this would not be acceptable for his client because men could see her without the veil. The hearing is set to continue on April 3.