An Ontario judge has ruled that a Muslim woman must remove her niqab to testify in a Toronto sex assault case.

Ontario Judge Norris Weisman made the ruling in a Toronto courtroom on Wednesday morning, after applying a new test set out by the Supreme Court of Canada that deals with witnesses who wish to take the stand while wearing a veil.

The test requires a judge to consider, among other things:
  • The depth of the witness’ religious beliefs
  • Whether the veil poses a serious risk to fairness in the trial
  • If there are any other ways to accommodate the witness
The 37-year-old woman at the centre of the case, known only as N.S., alleges she was sexually assaulted by two relatives as a child. When the case went a preliminary hearing in 2008, she asked to wear her niqab while testifying.
At the time, Weisman ruled that she must remove the veil for her testimony – a decision that N.S. fought all the way up to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Weisman ruled that while he’s certain of the woman’s strong religious convictions, he fears having her wear her niqab risks fairness in the trial.
“N.S.’s reasons for wearing her veil in public is that it cuts off the possibility of creating a sexualized atmosphere,” Weisman wrote in his reasons for ruling. “The question is whether her veil in similar fashion masks her demeanour and blocks both effective cross-examination by counsel for the accused, and assessment of her credibility by the trier of fact. I find that it does.”
Weisman noted that N.S. does remove her niqab when she’s required to, such as when she’s driving and for the photograph on her driver’s licence and passport.