Canada Supreme Court to review ban on Muslim veil during testimony

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Canada [official website] has agreed to review a lower court order requiring a Muslim woman to remove her niqab [BBC backgrounder] while testifying. The Court of Appeal for Ontario [official website] in October ruled [JURIST report] that a witness does not have to remove her veil unless the failure to do so will prevent the accused from receiving a fair trial, and should be determined on a case-by-case basis. The case was then remanded to the lower court. The trial began in 2007 after the woman told police that her uncle and cousin had repeatedly sexually assaulted her when she was between the ages of six and ten years old. The trial court required the victim to remove her veil when testifying against her uncle and cousin. The defendants argue that allowing the woman to wear a niqab on the stand obstructs their right to face their accuser. David Butt, the woman's lawyer, responded that an exception should be granted to ensure that victims of sexual assault, specifically Muslim women who practice religious veiling, feel welcomed by the judicial system [CBC Canada News, report].

The wearing of traditional religious clothing in court rooms and other public places has been highly contested in the United States [JURIST report] and around the world. In October, the French Constitutional Council [official website, in French] ruled [JURIST report] that a bill [materials, in French] making it illegal to wear the Islamic burqa [JURIST news archive], niqab or other full face veils in public, conforms with the Constitution. Earlier that month, a Dutch politician suggested that the Netherlands will ban the burqa [JURIST report] as part of the government's plan to form a minority coalition. In August, Austria's conservative Freedom Party [official website, in German] called for a special vote [JURIST report] on whether to ban face veils and the construction of minarets, two of the most visible symbols of the Islamic faith.

 

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