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Toronto woman fights to wear niqab at sex abuse trial

File photo of a woman wearing a niqab. REX FEATURES/MOODBOARD/WEST COAST SURFER

A Toronto woman is fighting for her right to wear a niqab – a veil worn by some Muslim women that covers the entire face except for the eyes – while she testifies in a sex abuse case.

The woman, known only as N.S., says the alleged sexual abuse occurred 15 years ago by family members including her uncle and another male relative.  Defence lawyers had argued that without seeing her face, they were not prepared to concede she was the victim.

The defence also argued that her demeanor could be “inhibited” by the veil, but the Crown said that’s an assumption.

Last year, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that a witness can — in certain circumstances — wear a religious veil while testifying in court.

On Monday, Justice Norris Weisman asked the alleged victim to go into another room with a female officer. The officer would compare her face with a driver’s licence photo of N.S.

Weisman said he was satisfied it was the woman in question and N.S. then took the stand to accuse her uncle and another male relative of childhood sexual abuse.

Her lawyer David Butt asked how long she had worn the veil.

The woman, who was born in 1976, said she has worn the niqab for 10 years.

“The point of the veil is…to cut off sexual environment,” she testified.

“I don’t have to wear it in my car [because] I’m in my own space. If I’m stopped at a light I will put it down,” N.S. said, adding that she removes the veil for other circumstances, like when she experienced morning sickness.

“It is not a religion of extremism. If it causes you grief, like allergies, you can take it down.”

“You are not less of a Muslim if you don’t wear the niqab.”

However, N.S. said, because she is talking about things “of a sexual nature,” she would be required to wear it.

“What about using a screen?” her lawyer asked.

“No, the purpose is that I cannot be seen,” she responded.

Defence lawyers then questioned N.S., attempting to discredit the “sincerity” of her belief, as she has only been wearing the veil for 10 years and does not always wear it.

Lawyer Douglas Usher asked if her religion “gave her comfort” when testifying.

“Yes, it provides me comfort to avoid creating a sexual atmosphere. It is obligatory,” she said.

N.S. told the court she removed her niqab to get her driver’s licence.

Justice Weisman said a social psychology professor scheduled to testify on Monday afternoon was not credible and could not testify.

The trial continues Tuesday.

With files from Marianne Boucher