Montreal

Judge who told woman to remove hijab offering to apologize in settlement proposal

It's been more than five years since Quebec court Judge Eliana Marengo told Montreal woman Rania El-Alloul to remove her hijab in the courtroom, saying she was "not suitably dressed." After a long legal battle, Marengo now wants to apologize.

Quebec court Judge Eliana Marengo's lawyers say she'll apologize if judicial complaints against her dropped

Rania El-Alloul, seen here in 2018, refused to remove her hijab in 2015 when Quebec court Judge Eliana Marengo told her she was not suitably dressed. (Steve Rukavina/CBC Montreal)

A Quebec court judge who refused to hold a hearing for a Montreal woman after the woman refused to remove her hijab now says she's willing to apologize for the incident, more than five years after it happened.

In February 2015, Judge Eliana Marengo refused to hear the case of Rania El-Alloul.

El-Alloul was in court trying to get her impounded car back.

"In my opinion, you are not suitably dressed," Marengo told El-Alloul at the time. The judge said the court was a secular space, and no religious symbols should be worn by those before it.

Marengo compared the hijab to a hat and sunglasses, saying she wouldn't hear a case from someone wearing those, either.

After the incident, dozens of people filed complaints with the Quebec Council of the Magistrature, the body responsible for disciplining judges in the province.

In a letter sent recently to the complainants, the council said it would convene a hearing Sept. 8.

"The purpose of this hearing will be to study a settlement proposal from the prosecutors on file, including a letter of apology from Judge Marengo to Mrs. El-Alloul," the letter said.

The letter also said the apology would be released to the public, in exchange for the dropping of the disciplinary complaints against Marengo.

Council spokesperson Paul Crépeau told CBC News the settlement is being jointly proposed by Marengo's lawyers and the lawyer handling the complaint for the council.

Long legal fight

Marengo has been fighting the disciplinary complaint in court for years, at one point challenging the authority of the council to even hear the complaint.

Judge Eliana Marengo's lawyers are now proposing a compromise where Marengo would write a letter of apology to El-Alloul. (Radio-Canada)

After a request from the legal team assisting El-Alloul, the Quebec Court of Appeal in 2018 issued a judgment reaffirming 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.

El-Alloul herself filed a formal complaint with the council after the incident, but it was rejected because of a technicality.

However, dozens of other complaints were accepted, and the council convened a special panel of five judges to consider the case.

El-Alloul declined to comment on the latest developments.

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