Freedom of religion of a person’s right to a fair trial? Which one should we choose?
A recent Supreme Court of Canada decision ruled Thursday that a woman can wear a religious veil called a niqab while testifying in court in certain circumstances.
The case of wearing a niqab brought two protections stated in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms against each other: freedom of religion and a person’s right to a fair trial.
The case that brought the issue to the Supreme Court of Canada involved a Toronto woman known only as N.S. who accused her cousin and uncle of sexually assaulting her when she was a child. She wanted to wear her religious veil while testifying against them in court.
The defendants claimed that it was in their Charter of Rights to confront their accuser and observe her facial expressions. They claim that seeing the woman’s face would allow them to assess her demeanour which may be the key to their defence.
In a split decision, a slim majority decided that a woman cannot wear a niqab and can only do so in certain circumstances.
Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin wrote for the majority.
“At this point, however, it may be ventured that where the liberty of the accused is at stake, the witness’s evidence is central to the case and her credibility vital, the possibility of a wrongful conviction must weight heavily in the balance, favouring removal of the niqab.”
This decision still allows witnesses whose credibility is unimportant to continue to wear their veils.
What do you think of this ruling? Should Muslim women be allowed to wear the niqab while testifying in court?