When justice is blind.
National Post, by Graeme Hamilton
Montreal — A Quebec Court judge refused to hear the case this week of a single mother trying to retrieve her car because the woman would not remove her Muslim head scarf.
“In my opinion, you are not suitably dressed,” Judge Eliana Marengo told Rania El-Alloul Tuesday, according to a courtroom recording obtained by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
“Decorum is important. Hats and sunglasses, for example, are not allowed, and I don’t see why scarves on the head would be. The same rules need to be applied to everyone.”
Ms. El-Alloul testified she was on welfare and the mother of three sons. She was trying to get back her car, which had been seized by the provincial automobile insurance board after one of her sons was caught driving it with a suspended licence.
She told the judge she needed the car to provide for her family. “I’m facing money problems,” she said.
But Judge Marengo refused to hear the merits of the case, citing a regulation governing court decorum that states simply, “Any person appearing before the court must be suitably dressed.”
There are no religious symbols in this room, not on the walls and not on the persons
She noted Ms. El-Alloul had said her hijab was a religious requirement. “In my opinion, the courtroom is a secular place and a secular space,” she said. “There are no religious symbols in this room, not on the walls and not on the persons.”
Canadian courts have wrestled with the issue of a witness wearing the niqab, which covers the entire face except for the eyes. The concern then was the right of an accused to assess a witness’s credibility by seeing her face. In 2012, the Supreme Court of Canada established a framework to be applied case by case to determine whether a witness could wear a niqab in court.
Sameer Zuberi, a law graduate and board member with the Canadian Muslim Forum, said this is the first case he is aware of where a woman has been ordered to remove a hijab, which leaves the face exposed.
“I think it’s a clear error that the judge made, in my personal opinion,” he said.
“I think that there’s been a long history in Quebec and Canada of people wearing religious headgear who are defending themselves in court, who are bringing cases in court, who are lawyers themselves.”