Ontario court orders woman to remove veil to testify

An Ontario judge has ruled that a woman must remove her face-covering veil to testify against the men she is accusing of sexual assault.

The judge says the woman’s niqab “masks her demeanour and blocks both effective cross-examination by counsel for the accused and assessment of her credibility by the trier of fact.”

The 37-year-old woman, known only as N.S., alleges two men sexually assaulted her over five years, starting when she was six years old.

The question of whether she should be allowed to testify in the case while wearing her niqab went all the way up to the Supreme Court of Canada, which issued a split decision but set out a test for judges to decide in individual cases.

The case is now back in provincial court for the preliminary inquiry, five years after the challenge began, and Judge Norris Weisman ruled that the woman must remove her veil to testify at the hearing.

Weisman noted that he had to balance her religious freedom with the accused men’s right to a fair trial, but in the end he was concerned that her face covering would hinder assessment of her credibility, possibly resulting in wrongful convictions.

Canadian Press, 24 April 2013