"A judge has ordered a Toronto woman to testify without her niqab at a sexual assault trial – raising the thorny issue of whether Muslim women should be allowed to appear as witnesses wearing a veil that covers everything but the eyes.
The issue is a collision of two rights, pitting religious freedom against the right of a defendant to face an accuser in open court.
The case could be precedent setting because it doesn't appear there is any Canadian case law addressing the question of Muslim women in the courtroom. In Canada, home to about 580,000 Muslims, the case will be closely watched, amid fears about Muslim women coming forward in criminal cases."
Interesting for a few reasons:
1. The "conflict of rights" question couldn't be any clearer.
2. The question of whether the trier of fact (judge or jury) needs to see someone's face to determine credibility. This issue has been resolved in cases of children by permitting the child to testify outside of open court; but there are no doubt different issues when we are talking about competent adults.
3. The judge characterized the request as stemming from "comfort" rather than religious belief, ie., rather than motivated by a belief that complying with the order would violate her religious beliefs. He relied on the fact that she had previously uncovered for the purpose obtaining a driver's license. Is that overstepping the judicial role, or just reasonable application of the law to the facts before him?
The timing is weird, in that the ruling was made last October and is only going to appeal next month. I can't find a record of the ruling - it was probably orally given.