Montreal woman asked to remove hijab in court appeals judge's refusal to clarify rules

Rania-El-Alloul, the Montreal woman ordered by a judge to remove her hijab before her case could be heard, wants to affirm the right to wear religious attire in a courtroom.

Rania El-Alloul wants judge to issue declaration saying hijabs OK in courtrooms

'It isn't enough that I have been vindicated,' says Rania El-Alloul about the Quebec Superior Court ruling. (National Council of Canadian Muslims)

The Montreal woman ordered by a Quebec Court judge to remove her hijab before her case could be heard is appealing a higher court ruling in the case.

Rania-El-Alloul's lawyers argue Superior Court Justice Wilbrod Décarie made errors in law in a ruling last month when he refused to issue a declaratory judgment.

El-Allou wants the Quebec Court of Appeal to affirm the right of people appearing in courtrooms to wear hijabs or other religious attire.

Judgment critical, but rules not clear

In his ruling, Décarie was strongly critical of Quebec Court Judge Eliana Marengo, the judge who told El-Alloul in February 2015 she would not hear her case unless she removed her hijab.

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.

"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 in his decision.

But Décarie stopped short of issuing a declaratory judgment, saying it was beyond his jurisdiction and largely unnecessary.

Vindication 'not enough'

In court documents filed with the Quebec Court of Appeal earlier this month, El-Alloul's lawyers argued Décarie should have gone further.

"It isn't enough that I have been vindicated," El-Alloul said in a statement to be released Wednesday by the National Council of Canadian Muslims, which is advising her in the case.

"It's so important that the successful resolution of my case ensures no one is ever humiliated the way I was and deprived of their rights."

'Extraordinary importance'

Julius Grey, El-Alloul's lawyer, said the case has "extraordinary importance."

"We have to make sure that no woman is ever denied justice because she's wearing the hijab, or anyone else wearing a kippa or turban," Grey told CBC News.

"It's singularly inappropriate to deny justice to somebody justice for such a reason."

Grey said he doesn't accept Décarie's argument that the case was beyond his jurisdiction.

"The judge denied a remedy, not because he disagreed with the first proposition, but because he felt it was the wrong procedure. The principal of the charter is that there's always a remedy if there's a right," Grey said.

Grey will ask the Quebec Court of Appeal to reverse Décarie's decision and issue the declaratory judgement requested.

Complaints about case still being reviewed

In a separate process, Quebec's Council of the Magistrature, the body responsible for disciplining judges in Quebec, is still reviewing dozens of complaints it received about Marengo's remarks.

 In an interview with CBC last month, El-Alloul said she hopes Marengo has learned from the case.

"I hope one day she will understand, and I hope she will not do it again," El-Alloul said.


Steve Rukavina


Steve Rukavina has been with CBC News in Montreal since 2002. In 2019, he won a RTDNA award for continuing coverage of sexual misconduct allegations at Concordia University. He's also a co-creator of the podcast, Montreapolis. Before working in Montreal he worked as a reporter for CBC in Regina and Saskatoon. You can reach him at