A Montreal resident has filed a complaint against Quebec Judge Eliana Marengo over her decision not to hear the case of a Muslim woman because she was wearing a hijab.
Rania El-Alloul appeared in Quebec court Feb. 24 in an attempt to recover her vehicle, which had been seized by Quebec’s automobile insurance board, the SAAQ.
Marengo refused to hear El-Alloul’s testimony unless she removed her hijab, which El-Alloul would not do.
In his complaint to Quebec’s judicial council, Jean-Pierre Lussier says Marengo’s decision was decried by many citizens, politicians and groups that support the protection of civil rights across Canada.
Lussier, who doesn't know El-Alloul, says that many people were surprised by the “rigidity” of the judge.
The judicial council, an independent body officially known as the Conseil de la magistrature, is mandated to examine complaints related to the conduct of judges.
The council will do an initial review, and if it “decides the complaint should be investigated further, it will look into the events that led to the complaint,” according to its website.
If deemed necessary, the judicial council will then set up an inquiry committee, which will "decide if any sanctions should be imposed.”
El-Alloul is considering legal action as well, but is meeting with lawyers and hasn't made a final decision.
Fo Niemi, the director of Montreal's Centre for Research Action on Race Relations, said he will also file a complaint with the judicial council. But he added that it's inherently difficult to challenge judges on their ethics.
Hijab controversies in courts
El-Alloul was not the first woman in the Montreal area asked to remove her hijab during court proceedings, nor is the complaint filed on her behalf the first complaint of that nature.
On Nov. 29, 1993, Judge Richard Alary, of the municipal court of Longueuil, Que., asked a woman to take off her hijab.
When she refused, he dismissed the case on the basis that all rules of the court must apply to everyone equally.
She filed a complaint against Alary to Quebec’s judicial council.
At that time, according to Radio-Canada, popular opinion in the legal community sided with the woman who was dismissed from court, but ultimately, the council sided with the judge.
The committee found the scarf on the woman’s head was not part of her religious beliefs.
The woman had already appeared twice in front of the court without the hijab, although Alary didn’t know this when he postponed her day in court,
In the disciplinary committee’s decision, it found that the judge acted in good faith, in accordance with the rights of individuals, taking into account the operating rules of the court.
But the disciplinary committee also said in its judgment that judges have an obligation to find "reasonable accommodations" when a court faces the religious beliefs of an individuals.
While El-Alloul said she was grateful for the support, there's also a possibility taking the money or the car could jeopardize her status as a welfare recipient, according to one expert.
"Welfare is going to say, 'Well, you're too rich to get welfare,'" Hans Marotte, a lawyer specializing in welfare and unemployment benefits, told CBC News.
"They're going to consider all the money that you receive from any source."
A friend of the family has helped them find a replacement car. El-Alloul is supposed to get her own vehicle back by the middle of the month.