A CANADIAN court is weighing a rape victim’s right to testify in court while wearing the Islamic veil, as defence lawyers argue two suspects had the right to face their accuser.
The Ontario Court of Appeal started hearing arguments in the case yesterday after a lower court ordered the victim to remove her niqab while testifying against her alleged assailants.
“It doesn’t provide any reliable information if the veils of my client are taken away,” the woman’s lawyer David Butt argued, saying his client had a right to wear the face-covering Islamic veil.
He referred to a section of the constitution that protects religious freedom.
“My client has a right to cover her face,” Mr Butt insisted.
Defence lawyer Michael Dineen said: “With the veils on, the facial expression of the accuser cannot be read and that there cannot be a successful cross-examination of the case.”
“Facial expression gives significant clues,” said Frank Addario, an attorney representing the Canadian Criminal Lawyers Association.
The case dates back several decades. The now 32-year-old woman claimed she was sexually assaulted and abused by an uncle and cousin between 1982 and 1987.
In 1992, her father asked police not to go ahead with the charges against the relatives. But the alleged victim later asked police to re-open the case.
The case has sparked controversy in Canada especially among members of the legal profession and rights groups who have staked out opposing viewpoints on the niqab.
The appeal court is expected to rule on the case by year-end.