Canadian Court Ponders Whether Woman Must Remove Niqab to Testify at Sex Assault Trial

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Overturning a lower court order requiring a Muslim woman to remove her niqab before testifying against two male relatives at a sexual assault trial, the Ontario Court of Appeal has ruled that a preliminary hearing judge should ponder the issue further before making a determination.

While facial demeanor is important in determining witness credibility, requiring a religious Muslim woman to undress to testify, especially in a sexual assault case, is obviously problematic, experts tell the Star.

In its decision today, the appellate court held that the unidentified woman should be asked to explain why her religion calls for her to shield her face during testimony and given an opportunity to demonstrate the sincerity of her beliefs, the newspaper recounts.

A preliminary hearing judge, the court found, committed legal error by overly focusing on the woman’s agreement to be photographed for a driver’s license without the niqab and relatively brief testimony that she was “more comfortable” wearing it.

A Canadian Press article provides more details about the ruling.

Updated at 5:52 p.m. to link to Canadian Press article.

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