Montreal

Here is Judge Marengo's apology for asking a woman to remove her hijab in Quebec court

Quebec Judge Eliana Marengo has apologized to Rania El-Alloul for asking her to remove her hijab in court five years ago. Here is that apology and El-Alloul's response.

Rania El-Alloul's response is included below

Rania El-Alloul was seeking to recover her car, which had been impounded, when a Quebec court judge in Montreal asked her to remove her hijab. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Quebec Judge Eliana Marengo has apologized for asking Rania El-Alloul to remove her hijab in court five years ago.

At an online hearing of the Conseil de la magistrature du Québec on Tuesday, a lawyer for the council read Marengo's apology to El-Alloul.

The council is responsible for disciplining judges in the province.

Below is are transcripts of both the judge's apology and El-Alloul's response.


Dear Mrs. El-Alloul:

On February 24, 2015, you came to court to have the seizure of your automobile quashed.

At that time, you were wearing a headscarf. Since one is generally not allowed to attend court with anything on one's head, I asked you if you were wearing a scarf for religious reasons. You said yes. I then interrupted the proceedings in order to retire to my chambers and deliberate on whether or not you should be allowed to wear a headscarf under the circumstances.

After deliberating for approximately half an hour, I returned to the courtroom and explained why I would not hear you if you were wearing a scarf on your head. I then invited you to consult a lawyer and return to court at a date of your choosing to discuss this matter further.

Since you did not want to choose a date to come back, I postponed the hearing immediately. Subsequently, you, as well as others, filed complaints against me with the Conseil de la Magistrature. In a separate file, the court of appeal rendered a decision clarifying that you had every right to wear a religious headscarf in the courtroom, and concluded that I had erred in questioning that right.

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)

Of course, I respect that decision, acknowledge that I erred in my interpretation of section 13 of the regulations of the court of Quebec, and going forward, fully intend to apply the principles it contained. 

Although your complaint was dismissed by the Conseil de la Magistrature, I want you to know that I regret any inconvenience my decision caused. I would also like you to know that I never intended to offend you personally, or your beliefs.

My reference to hats and sunglasses was simply meant to exemplify how the rules of decorum are generally applied in the courtroom, and was most certainly not meant to disrespect either you or your beliefs.

Finally, Mrs. El-Alloul, I would like to offer you my most sincere apologies, which I hope you will accept.  

Yours very truly,

Eliana Marengo


Below is El-Alloul's response:

I remember that day in the courtroom like it was yesterday. I couldn't imagine that I would be turned away from the justice system because of my hijab headscarf — that my rights would be taken away because of my beliefs.  

It was lucky that a CBC reporter heard what the judge said that day in a recording, and that it made the news. If it hadn't, I may never have gotten back my rights. I would have not known where to turn. And maybe Justice Marengo herself would have kept turning away Quebec Muslim women from the justice system.  

My main objective in pursuing justice was to get a ruling that made it clear to the public that I had a right to wear a hijab in court, that anyone who wears religious clothing had the right to do so also.

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)

I was overjoyed with the unanimous decision from the Quebec Court of Appeal that was rendered in my favour, not just for me, but for all Quebecers who believe in equality before the law, that sincerely held religious beliefs are rights ... in a democracy.

No one, not even a judge, has the right to take that away from us. That judgment sent a strong signal to minority communities in the province that human rights are not selective. They are universal. They belong to all of us: every single Quebecer in this province. 

Justice Marengo had a duty to exercise her authority based on the highest standards of impartiality and fairness.  Despite all of this, I would accept her apology to me.

This is what my faith teaches me. I hope she understands the pain she caused me, and why it is so important for her to account for her actions. Our justice system is not made for some and not others. No, this is a democracy, where everyone is to be treated equally before the law.

I thank the respected judges for reviewing this case, and helping to bring it to a positive close. I wish what happened to me never happens to anyone again.

I never asked for this, but I am proud of the many Quebecers and other Canadians from across Canada who stood up for me. To the people who complained to you about what happened to me — I'm so grateful to each and every one of them for standing up for my rights, and the rights of everyone.

Also, I'm very thankful to the National Council of Canadian Muslims and to my legal team for their help and support.

Thank you to everybody. 

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