It’s hard to believe that Canada’s freedom of religion laws are not at least as robust as the United States. Therefore, it’s even harder to understand why a person who is charged with maintaining at least the appearance of impartiality should make such a patently absurd ruling, depriving a litigant of her day in court because of her religious beliefs.
“In my opinion, you are not suitably dressed,” Judge Eliana Marengo told Rania El-Alloul Tuesday, according to a courtroom recording obtained by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
“Decorum is important. Hats and sunglasses, for example, are not allowed, and I don’t see why scarves on the head would be. The same rules need to be applied to everyone.”
Ms. El-Alloul testified she was on welfare and the mother of three sons. She was trying to get back her car, which had been seized by the provincial automobile insurance board after one of her sons was caught driving it with a suspended licence.
She told the judge she needed the car to provide for her family. “I’m facing money problems,” she said.
But Judge Marengo refused to hear the merits of the case, citing a regulation governing court decorum that states simply, “Any person appearing before the court must be suitably dressed.”
She noted Ms. El-Alloul had said her hijab was a religious requirement. “In my opinion, the courtroom is a secular place and a secular space,” she said. “There are no religious symbols in this room, not on the walls and not on the persons.”
You would think that common sense would prevail in such an instance and the judge would realize that requirements that help maintain religious neutrality in the courtroom applies to the court and its personnel (and even then only to a limited degree). It certainly does not apply to litigants.
I hardly think this “judge” would have dared to treat a nun the same way and refuse to hear her case unless she removed her headscarf.
But it seems this was a case of a judge who is clearly biased against muslims and thinks that she’s clever enough to fashion a pretext under which she can exercise her biases. Judging from the national coverage the case has garnered, I would say she’s failed miserably. Alas, sometimes it takes national infamy to realize the folly of your ways.