Montreal

Quebec judge had no legal basis for asking woman to remove hijab, higher court says

A Quebec Superior Court justice is strongly criticizing a lower court judge's insistence that a Montreal woman remove her hijab in order to have her case heard in court.

Superior Court 'deeply regrets' treatment of Rania El-Alloul by lower court Judge Eliana Marengo

In an exclusive interview, Rania El-Alloul talks to CBC Montreal reporter Steve Rukavina about the significance of a judge's ruling this week that defends her right to wear a hijab in court. 1:20

A Quebec Superior Court justice has strongly criticized a lower court judge's insistence that a Montreal woman, Rania El-Alloul, remove her hijab in order to have her case heard in court.

"The court sympathizes with Ms. El-Alloul and deeply regrets how she was treated," wrote Justice Wilbrod Décarie in a decision released this week.

The remarks represent a rebuke of controversial comments made last year by Quebec Court Judge Eliana Marengo.

During a hearing in February 2015, Marengo told El-Alloul she would not hear her case unless she removed her hijab.

It was important for me to hear another judge agree that it was wrong and should not have happened.- Rania   El-Alloul

​Marengo contended the courtroom was a secular space and compared the hijab to a hat and sunglasses, which would not normally be allowed in a courtroom.

Décarie, however, said that argument had already been rejected by the Supreme Court of Canada.

"Indeed, the thesis adopted by Judge Marengo that a courtroom is a secular space where the religious beliefs of a person have no right to be cited has no force of law in Canada," Décarie wrote.

Decision stops short

El-Alloul's lawyers had asked Décarie to issue a declaratory judgment that would essentially clarify the rules around hijabs in Quebec courtrooms.

Despite his criticism of Judge Marengo's remarks, however, Décarie stopped short of that, saying it was beyond his jurisdiction and largely unnecessary.

El-Alloul responded to Décarie's decision in a statement released Thursday by the National Council of Canadian Muslims, which is supporting her.

"It was important for me to hear another judge agree that it was wrong and should not have happened," El-Alloul said. "I continue to hope that no one will ever be treated like I was."

She said her lawyers are reviewing the decision to determine if there's any further legal action they can take.

Rania El-Alloul, the Montreal woman who was asked by a judge to remove her hijab in court, says she feels vindicated by this week's ruling. (National Council of Canadian Muslims)

Ruling 'important for everybody'

In an interview with CBC Montreal, El-Alloul said "she's very happy" with Décarie's decision. 

"I need everybody to feel safe and unafraid to go to court because of the way they dress, whether they are Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Indian — all the religions," she said. 

"It's important for everybody."

She said women wearing the hijab are not doing anything wrong, or un-Canadian, and should be treated like everyone else. 

"We are all of us Canadian.  We are not making harm for anybody."

Judge Marengo's remarks were condemned back in 2015 by human rights advocates and several politicians, including prime-minister-to-be Justin Trudeau.

The judge hasn't apologized and hasn't been disciplined.

Quebec's Council of the Magistrature, the body responsible for disciplining judges in Quebec, is still reviewing dozens of complaints about Marengo's remarks.

 El-Alloul said she hopes Morengo has learned from Décarie's rebuke. 

"I hope one day she will understand, and I hope she will not do it again."

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