Montreal

Quebec's highest court rules woman wearing hijab was entitled to be heard

The Quebec Court of Appeal has ruled Rania El-Alloul, who was denied justice three years ago after a judge ordered her to remove her hijab, was entitled to be heard by the court.

Rania El-Alloul denied day in court 3 years ago after judge ordered her to remove hijab

The Quebec Court of Appeal has ruled Rania El-Alloul, whose court case was deferred because she refused a judge's request to remove her headscarf, had the right to appear before the court wearing a hijab. (Steve Rukavina/CBC Montreal)

The Quebec Court of Appeal has ruled a woman who was denied justice three years ago after a judge ordered her to remove her hijab was entitled to be heard by the court.

The unanimous judgment rendered today in favour of Rania El-Alloul says the Quebec court dress code does not forbid head scarves if they constitute a sincere religious belief and don't harm the public interest.

"It was a long time [coming], but I felt that we could do something," said El-Alloul. "So I am happy."

In February 2015, Judge Eliana Marengo refused to hear a case involving El-Alloul's impounded car because El-Alloul refused to remove her Islamic head scarf in the courtroom.

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

She told El-Alloul that she would not hear from a person wearing a hat or sunglasses in court.

Important precedent for religious rights: lawyer

El-Alloul's lawyers had appealed a Quebec Superior Court decision in 2016 refusing to declare that she had the right to be heard by the court despite her attire.

Wednesday's judgment by the Quebec Court of Appeal quashes the original judgment by the trial judge and sets aside the Superior Court judgment that denied relief.

Catherine McKenzie, who represented El-Alloul in her appeal, said the ruling sets an important precedent for the rights of those who wear religious symbols in court. 

El-Alloul said she hadn't sought out to become an activist, but that she could not just stand by and accept what she knew was wrong.

"I didn't do it for it myself, I did it for all the ladies wearing hijab," she said, "and from the beginning I talked about all religions, not only us." 

She thanked her lawyers, the public and the National Council of Canadian Muslims for their support over the course of her court battle.

"I hope [Judge Marengo] will one day apologize, at least, and admit what she did was wrong," she said.

With files from CBC's Steve Rukavina and The Canadian Press

now