niqab isn’t the issue; racism is

posted by missmsian

This week, the highest court in Ontario will rule on whether a woman should be allowed to wear her niqab while testifying in her sex assault case.

The lawyer asking for the removal of the niqab argues that “face-to-face confrontation with witnesses is vital to an effective cross-examination.”

Would a woman be asked to remove her cross necklace before testifying?

I see the eye rolling. “It’s an unfair comparison ,” some may say.

No; it’s perfectly fair. The niqab and cross necklace are both worn for religious reasons. Neither is more/less threatening or more/less conspicuous than the other. (Whether something is “conspicuous” rarely has to do with its size and visibility, but more often to do with how the viewer judges it. If Christianity offended me and I took the cross necklace as a representation of Christianity, even a tiny pendant tucked under a shirt, barely glimpsed by me, would seem extremely conspicuous.)

“But one covers most of the face and the other just hangs from the neck.”

What is with this sick, Orientalist obsession with unveiling, exposing, “seeing”? The woman in the case would be testifying in front of the court. That means everyone in the courtroom would see her. Maybe they wouldn’t see her bra straps and neck tattoos, but one would hope a lawyer wouldn’t have to in order to make a fair assessment of her testimony.

To borrow from the arguments this woman’s lawyer makes: what if the lawyer or judge were visually impaired? Are people who are visually impaired incapable of making accurate judgements because they don’t see facial expressions?

What about witnesses who are nervous and exhibit all the apparently ‘telltale’ signs of lying–shifty eyes, etc.–while trying to tell the truth?

Here’s another one the woman’s lawyer didn’t mention: what about protection for victims of sex assault?

There are rare cases where victims are allowed to testify from behind a screen–usually when the victim is a child, I think.

Why isn’t this sort of protection an option for all victims? Is there no recognition that it could be re-traumatizing to make a victim look at the assailant?

By demanding that the woman remove her niqab, the lawyer is implying that she would be unbelievable otherwise–calling her character into question before her testimony even begins.

Three male superiors will be making a precedent-setting ruling. Sex assault is already an under-reported crime. Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund lawyer Susan Chapman has said, “It’s no coincidence that this is a sexual assault case. This is the last case in the world where the court should be ordering a woman, over her objection, to remove her clothing.”

I hope they keep this in mind.

And for those who haven’t been paying attention to the proposed Bill 94 because it ostensibly affects only Quebec, think again. Depending on the ruling in this case, something similar for Ontario might not be far behind.


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