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TORONTO (RNS) In a case that pits religious freedom against the right of a defendant to face an accuser in court, a judge here has ordered a Toronto woman to testify without her face-covering niqab at a sexual assault trial.
The Toronto Star reports the case could be precedent-setting because it doesn’t appear there is any Canadian case law on the question of veiled women testifying in court.
In Canada, home to at least 600,000 Muslims, the case will be closely watched, amid fears that veiled Muslim women will be forced to bare their faces.
The matter goes back to a preliminary hearing last fall, when the woman, who has not been identified, said she wanted to wear a veil that conceals everything but the eyes while testifying.
She said she would feel “a lot more comfortable” if she did not have to reveal her face.
Defense counsel countered that assessing her demeanor was of “critical importance” when tailoring questioning.
In a decision made public only recently, Ontario judge Norris Weisman reached an “admittedly difficult decision” to force the complainant to testify with her face uncovered after finding that her religious belief “is not that strong … and that it is, as she says, a matter of comfort.”
The judge also found that the woman had a driver’s license “with her unveiled facial impression upon it.” The woman explained that the picture on the license had been taken by a female and there was a screen between her and potential male onlookers.
But Weisman wrote the license “can be required to be produced by all sorts of males,” such as police officers and border guards.
The woman’s lawyer said he will appeal the ruling.
By Ron Csillag
Copyright 2009 Religion News Service.All rights reserved.No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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