Religious Attire In Canadian Courtrooms

Religious Attire In Canadian Courtrooms

Presenter: John Pope

March, 2015

Our Canadian court system has been under pressure lately to decide on appropriate attire for Canadian court witnesses.

The Harper government appealed a federal court ruling that the niqab be allowed in Canadian courtrooms. Last Thursday, a Supreme Court ruling allowed the niqab in courtrooms in most, but not in all cases. [http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2012/12/20/supreme_court_niqab_ruling_veil_can_be_worn_to_testify_in_some_cases.html]

A Quebec judge adjourned a case indefinitely over a woman wearing a hijab.

[http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/quebec-judge-wouldn-t-hear-case-of-woman-wearing-hijab-1.2974282] “In my opinion, you are not suitably dressed,” the judge said. “Decorum is important. Hats and sunglasses, for example, are not allowed, and I don’t see why scarves on the head would be. The same rules need to be applied to everyone.”

Questions:

Is the Supreme Court ruling the final decision on this matter? 

Does the latest Supreme Court decision do away with secularism in Canadian courtrooms?

If some attire is allowed for religious reasons, what about people with vision problems who have to wear sun-glasses, or people who have undergone chemo and wish to wear a hat?  Where does it end?

If witnesses in Canadian courts are allowed to wear religious symbolism, how will the court determine if the symbolism is genuinely religious, or whether the person is taking advantage of the law to make a public statement of some other kind? Would wearing a provocative religious slogan on a t-shirt be acceptable? Who decides?

If some people are given the right to wear head coverings or symbols of their beliefs, why can’t all Canadians have that right?

If religious symbolism were allowed, would someone be allowed to wear a Flying Spaghetti Monster hat, if they believed in the FSM? Would all ‘religions’, no matter how weird or obscure, be treated the same?

Will there be an increase of cases where a judge has to excuse themselves from a trial because the witness is wearing symbolism that is offensive to them? Judges who have strong religious beliefs might find a witness’s attire offensive.

A few suggested links:

“Standing on guard against the Islamic hordes, Ayatollahs Harper and Jason Kenney are reciting the sharia to argue that the niqab is not Islamic.”: http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2015/03/14/harper-should-follow-our-secular-law-on-niqab-siddiqui.html

Forcing Women to Remove Their Niqabs Is Just Another Kind of Oppression by Jonathan Scott

Veiled Threat: Niqab in the Courtroomby J.S. Vijaya, Criminal trial lawyer

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