Woman's fight to testify in court wearing face-covering veil may be over

TORONTO – A long court battle involving a woman who fought to wear her face-covering veil while testifying against two men she is accusing of sexual assault could be resolved early next year.

A judge ruled earlier this year that the woman must remove her niqab to testify because it masks her demeanour and blocks both effective cross-examination and assessment of her credibility as a witness.

The woman’s lawyer, David Butt, says after she decided not to appeal that decision he proposed another solution — that she testify without her veil so that only the judge, lawyers and court staff can see her.

The woman, who can only be identified as N.S. because of a publication ban, alleges two men sexually assaulted her over a span of five years when she was a child.

Butt says their lawyers opposed his solution and the judge ordered a compromise late last week — that N.S. testify without her veil so that the judge, lawyers, court staff and also the accused men can see her.

The preliminary inquiry on the sex assault charges is set to resume on Jan. 13 and Butt says N.S. will have to decide at that time if she accepts those conditions and whether she wants to testify.

The inquiry was stalled for five years as the veil issue went all the way up to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The high court was sharply divided on whether a woman can wear a niqab while testifying, so it affirmed the importance of both religious freedom versus the rights of an accused to a fair trial and sent the matter back to the preliminary inquiry judge with a four-step analysis to be used in such situations.