The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in December that niqabs — full-face veils — could sometimes be worn by witnesses in court depending on the context.
In a case involving a Toronto woman identified only as “N.S.,” the court was asked to balance a niqab-wearing witness’s freedom of religion versus a defendant’s right to a fair trial in a sexual assault case.
In weighing these rights against each other, the court ultimately adopted a balanced approach. However, it split in a 4-2-1 decision (with Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin writing for the majority), adopting a “just and proportionate balance between freedom of religion on the one hand, and trial fairness on the other, based on the particular case before the court.”
Justices Louis LeBel and Morris Fish, meanwhile, argued that niqabs must never be worn in the courtroom, while Justice Rosalie Abella, in a dissenting opinion, stated that a witness should only have to remove a niqab if her face is directly relevant to the case.