Court to rule on whether woman can testify wearing veil

Ontario’s highest court is expected to release a ruling today on a woman who wants to testify wearing a niqab at her sexual assault preliminary hearing.

The issue has drawn attention from several groups who are split on whether or not she should be able to wear the veil on the witness stand.

Lawyers for no fewer than seven parties made submissions before the Court of Appeal.

Some argue it is about charter rights such as freedom of religion and fair trial rights, others say it is about revictimization of an alleged rape victim.

The case began in 2007 when a woman identified only as N.S., told police her cousin and uncle repeatedly sexually abused her while she was a child.

During the preliminary inquiry the judge ordered N.S. to remove her veil to testify, a ruling that has now ended in the Appeal Court.

A lawyer for one of the defendants said N.S. has not said she refuses to testify without her face covered, just that she would feel more comfortable wearing the niqab.

Without being able to view the face of a witness, clues to her demeanour are lost and impede the defendants’ ability to fully cross-examine her, Michael Dineen said.

The Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund takes the position that forcing N.S. to remove her veil will deter other niqab-wearing women from accessing the justice system.

The Muslim Canadian Congress wants to see N.S. testify without her veil because the group says it is a political symbol of oppression of women.

The Crown suggests the court shouldn’t be determining admissibility of veiled testimony, but instead a legal test needs to be created for such issues.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association also takes the position N.S. should be allowed to testify wearing her veil.

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