A Muslim woman must remove her niqab before testifying against two men accused of sexually assaulting her three decades ago, an Ontario judge ruled Wednesday.
The decision by Justice Norris Weisman comes after years of legal wrangling, pitting the accused's right to a fair trial against the complainant's freedom of religion. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, where a split decision effectively sent it back to the lower court.
While Judge Weisman wrestled with the implications of making the woman — who can be identified only as N.S. — choose between her religious convictions and her desire to seek justice, he ultimately gave greater weight to the potential negative consequences for the accused.
"On a broader societal level, should the niqab impede effective cross-examination of the complainant by the accused's counsel, they will not be able to assess the witness's demeanour and tailor the thrust and direction of their questions accordingly," Judge Weisman noted in his ruling. "Wrongful convictions could ensue with resulting loss of public confidence in the justice system."