Toronto-area Muslim women to appeal veil-in-court decision

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.

Court hearings consider whether Muslims may testify in Canada wearing veil

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.