Supreme Court won't hear appeal from Quebec judge over hijab disciplinary probe

A Quebec judge has failed in her bid to halt disciplinary proceedings against her after she refused to hear the case of a woman wearing a hijab.

Judge refused to hear a routine traffic matter unless woman removed her hijab

In February 2015 Quebec court Judge Eliana Marengo told Rania El-Alloul she would not hear her case unless she removed her hijab in court. (Radio-Canada)

A Quebec judge has failed in her bid to halt disciplinary proceedings against her after she refused to hear the case of a woman wearing a hijab.

In February 2015, Quebec court Judge Eliana Marengo refused to hear a routine traffic matter involving Montrealer Rania El-Alloul unless she agreed to remove her hijab, which Marengo described as "inappropriate."

Marengo has argued in three levels of court that Quebec's Council of the Magistrature — the body responsible for disciplining judges in Quebec — doesn't have jurisdiction to investigate several complaints that were filed against her after the hijab incident.

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday it won't hear Marengo's appeal.

That means the disciplinary investigation, which has been on hold for years, will finally begin, nearly four years after Marengo told El-Alloul to remove her hijab.

Marengo is still working as a judge.

Hijab compared to 'hat and sunglasses'

El-Alloul was in court three years ago to apply to get her car back after it was seized by Quebec's automobile insurance board, the SAAQ.

Marengo told El-Alloul that the courtroom was a secular place and that she wasn't suitably dressed.

"Hats and sunglasses for example, are not allowed.  And I don't see why scarves on the head would be either," Marengo said.  

The regulation Marengo cited in making the order states simply: "Any person appearing before the court must be suitably dressed."

El-Alloul refused to remove her hijab and her case was postponed.

Judge tries to quash disciplinary process

In the weeks that followed, dozens of people filed complaints with the Council of the Magistrature, which then set up a special committee to look at those complaints.

Marengo has challenged that disciplinary process every step of the way.

She challenged the committee's competence, arguing it didn't have the jurisdiction to investigate and that such an investigation would be a threat to her judicial independence.

She tried, without success, to block the committee in Superior Court.

She appealed that decision to the Quebec Court of Appeal, which rejected her request in a decision in February.

She took the case to the Supreme Court, which announced Thursday it wouldn't hear her appeal. It doesn't offer explanations when it refuses to hear an appeal.

Previous court decision approves hijabs in courtroom

Marengo's challenge dealt only with the jurisdiction of the Council of the Magistrature to investigate the case, and not on the substance of whether or not Marengo erred in asking El-Alloul to remove her hijab.

Rania El-Alloul, pictured after the Quebec Court of Appeal ruled in October that Judge Marengo never should have asked her to remove her hijab. (Steve Rukavina/CBC Montreal)

That question has already been settled.

In a decision in October, the Quebec Court of Appeal ruled that Marengo should have heard El-Alloul's case that day, and that the Quebec court dress code does not forbid head scarves if they constitute a sincere religious belief and don't harm the public interest.

Marengo has never commented publicly on the case, and she wasn't available to comment Thursday after the Supreme Court decision.

The Council of the Magistrature was also unavailable to comment Thursday.


Steve Rukavina is a journalist with CBC Montreal.