Support has been pouring in for a Quebec woman who was refused her day in court because she was wearing a hijab, including a crowdfunding campaign that raised more than $20,000 in its first day.
Rania El-Alloul expressed her gratitude Saturday for the campaign which was set up to raise money to help her buy a car after a judge refused to hear her case to retrieve her seized vehicle last Tuesday.
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"I am receiving support from everywhere, because I know I said the truth," El-Alloul said in a phone interview from her home in Montreal. "The headscarf is my choice and my faith."
A Vancouver and a Toronto resident used the website gofundme on Friday to raise the money.
'For someone to be denied justice in a court because they were wearing a hijab is just very strange for a place like Canada. This is not the opinion of most Canadians we know.' - Nouman Ahmad, campaign co-founder
Campaign co-funder Nouman Ahmad said he was "dismayed" when he heard media reports that El-Alloul was told that her case against the province's auto insurance board would not be heard unless she removed her headscarf.
Justice Eliana Marengo said that she wanted her courtroom to be secular and El-Alloul's Islamic headscarf was inappropriate.
Ahmad and his friend Rayan Rafay, who had never tried crowdfunding before, were pleasantly surprised when their campaign spread rapidly over social media. They received 400 donations and surpassed their goal of $20,000 in just over 24 hours. Ahmad says the response sends a strong message about Canadian values.
"For someone to be denied justice in a court because they were wearing a hijab is just very strange for a place like Canada," Ahmad said. "This is not the opinion of most Canadians we know."
Ahmad plans to keep the fund open, with additional donations going toward El-Alloul's legal fees. He hopes to fly to Montreal to present her with the cheque in person.
'I know I said the truth'
The judge's decision has drawn widespread condemnation from citizens, politicians and civil rights groups across the country. A spokesperson from the Prime Minister's office said Friday that a "if someone is not covering their face, we believe they should be allowed to testify."
A separate gofundme campaign for legal fees has been started by a former Vancouver resident who now lives in California.
Reached at her home outside Montreal, El-Alloul said she was surprised to hear about the crowdfunding campaigns and grateful for the support she has received.
"I am receiving support from everywhere, because I know I said the truth" she said. "The headscarf is my choice and my faith."
'I felt afraid'
Not everyone supports El-Alloul, however. Ahmad had to limit comments on his gofundme site after a number of angry responses.
El-Alloul's court case was suspended indefinitely after she refused to remove her scarf. El-Alloul says the incident has left her feeling afraid.
"If you want to speak to a judge in the court and the judge herself is not listening to you ... I felt afraid," she said.
Now El-Alloul is speaking with lawyers and plans to file a complaint against the judge.
"The most important is to get respect," she said. "I gave her respect. She didn't give me my respect. I don't want this thing to happen to anybody else."
A spokeswoman for the Court of Quebec said Friday it is standing by Marengo's decision.