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Niqab ruling opens the door for Ottawa to act
by Barbara Kay
The Supreme Court of Canada has rendered its decision on what has come to be known as "the niqab case," which pitted against each other the Charter right to freedom of religion and the right of an accused to a fair trial. The case centred on whether a Muslim woman, "N.S.," who has charged her uncle and cousin with sexual assault in her 1980s childhood, had the right to testify against them in court wearing her niqab, a veil that covers the entire face but the eyes.
The Ontario Court of Appeal, supporting the lower court, had ruled the woman might be forced to remove the veil if credibility was at stake. In a split decision (4-2-1), the Supreme Court has now reinforced that decision, ruling the woman may have to remove her veil if certain criteria, having to do with credibility and other factors laid out in the Court of Appeal ruling, are met.
Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin acknowledged that wearing a niqab could lead to problems with credibility and therefore to a wrongful conviction, stating "The common law, supported by provisions of the Criminal Code, and judicial pronouncements, proceeds on the basis that the ability to see a witness's face is an important feature of a fair trial."
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