A Toronto judge ruled Wednesday that a Muslim woman must remove her niqab [BBC backgrounder] while testifying in a sexual abuse case. The woman, known as NS, has been fighting for years to be allowed to wear her niqab while testifying and took her case to the Supreme Court of Canada [official website], which ruled in December that trial judge may make a case-by-case determination [JURIST report]. Justice Norris Weisman weighed NS's religious beliefs with the accused's right to a fair trial and determined that NS must remove her niqab. His lawyer said they will seek to have the decision overturned [Toronto Sun report] by the Ontario Superior Court.
In January JURIST Guest Columnist Beverley Baines of the Queen's University Faculty of Law argued that the Supreme Court's ruling weakens the protections [JURIST op-ed] offered to niqab-wearing women. The wearing of traditional religious clothing in court rooms and other public places has been highly contested in the United States [JURIST report] and around the world. In September the Swiss Parliament [official website, in french] voted against [JURIST report] a bill which would ban burqas [JURIST news archive] and other face coverings in public places. Last year the Netherlands announced that a ban on burqas would go forward [JURIST report]. Proponents of the Netherlands ban said the purpose was to stop people from being able to commit crimes and remain undetected by concealing their identities and covering their faces. Belgium officially banned [JURIST report] burqas in July 2011. France's ban on burqas took effect [JURIST report] in April 2011. Some commentators have suggested that the rationales behind the European burqa bans are weak [JURIST op-ed] and that the true purpose of the bills is societal discomfort.