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Toronto woman must remove niqab to testify: judge

A woman, known publicly as N.S., wears a niqab in court before Judge Norris Weisman in Toronto on April 15, 2013. CITYNEWS

A Toronto woman has lost her fight to wear a niqab when she testifies in a sex abuse case.

Ontario Judge Norris Weisman released his decision on Wednesday, ordering the Muslim woman to remove her veil at a preliminary hearing next week.

“I am satisfied by the evidence I have heard … that [her] wish to wear her niqab in court is based on a religious belief that is both sincere and strong,” Weisman said in his ruling.

“Permitting her to wear her niqab while testifying in court does, however, create a serious risk to trial fairness. She is the key witness in the Crown’s case. Her credibility is very much in issue.”

The woman, now 37 and known to the public as N.S., says her uncle and cousin abused her from 1982 to 1987.

The lawyer for her uncle said seeing her face is essential to the case.

“[The judge’s decision is based on] the centrality of the witness, the fact that she is the only witness for the Crown [and that there’s] no corroborative evidence,” Enzo Battigaglia told CityNews.

“Being able to confront the accuser is part of our common law and has been for centuries.”

Battigaglia did say, however, he would support a witness wearing the niqab when credibility is not at stake — when a bank employee testifies about records in a fraud case, for example.

N.S. said she has worn the niqab for 10 years and removed it for her job as a driver. But because she will be talking about sexual things in court, she said her beliefs require that she wears it.

She took her case all the way to the Supreme Court after Weisman first ordered her to remove her niqab in 2008. But the court handed the case back to the Ontario court last December.

With files from Marianne Boucher and Erin Criger