Tag Archives: The Charter

Niqabs in court

An important case opened in the Ontario Court of Appeal today. The court will decide if a woman will be allowed to wear a niqab while she testifies against the men who allegedly sexually assaulted her.

The woman, called N.S. in court documents, has worn the niqab for many years and argues that the Charter protects her religious right to wear it.

The Criminal Lawyers’ Association, one of the intervenors in the case, argues that defendants have a right to face their accusers. They also argue that lawyers need to be able to see facial expressions of the witness they are cross-examining.

Another intervenor is the the Canadian Muslim Congress, who argues that the niqab is a cultural garment, rather than a religious one.

However, the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF), an intervenor on the other side, argues that requiring N.S. to remove her veil will further deter Muslim women from bringing forward sexual assault charges.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association, also an intervenor on the woman’s behalf, says that women should not have to choose between their religion and justice.

The discussion around this case should not be around whether or not women should wear coverings. It is about accommodating religious practice and protecting survivors of sexual assault. Sexual assault is already extremely under-reported and under-prosecuted. A ruling that finds women must testify unveiled would mean Muslim women would be even less likely to come forward.

This LEAF media advisory explains it well:

The implication of this case for the stigmatized minority group of women who wear the niqab is significant. [LEAF counsel, Susan Chapman] explains: “If niqab-wearing women believe that they will be ordered to remove their niqabs if they seek the protection of the Canadian legal system, will they ever report sexual assault? The message will be that these women can be sexually assaulted with impunity. This is clearly unacceptable.”

“The complaint’s request for an Order that she not be forced to remove her niqab is not an assertion of “special rights” nor is it just based on freedom of religion” says [LEAF co-counsel and Legal Director Joanna Birenbaum]. “The constitutional rights which the complainant asserts are fundamental: the rights to liberty, to be free from state imposed psychological harm, to physical security, to a justice system that operates free of discrimination and prejudice.”

No matter what the ruling, this case will likely go to the Supreme Court.

Hearings on Bill 94 begin in Quebec

Hearings on Bill 94, which would restrict women from receiving public services if wearing a veil, have begun in Quebec City.

If passed, this bill would deny women access to essential services. It will deny women the freedom to practice their religion. It will limit their options and therefore their lives.

Dana Olwan has some excellent analysis at Rabble.ca

The rationalizations given for Bill 94 have broad consequences for Canadian women today. This bill strengthens the already choking grip of the state over public funds and facilities. It restricts who may and may not have access to universal medical care and education — services guaranteed to Canadian citizens through the Canadian Health Act and both the Quebec and Canadian Charter of Rights. The bill also permits state officials in Quebec to declare in what manner citizens may deliver and receive state services or what face they may put forward when interacting with or on behalf of the state.

As Quebec’s Premier Jean Charest reminds us, “If you are someone employed by the state and you deliver a service, you will deliver it with your face uncovered… If you are a citizen who receives services, you will receive them with your face uncovered.” The neutral language used here conceals that it is predominantly women who wear face coverings. Therefore, it is women whose faces this bill seeks to uncover and whose rights it abrogates. By extending the Canadian state an unauthorized invitation into Muslim women’s closets, the proponents of Bill 94 maximize state control over women’s bodies and day-to-day choices of dress and religious practice.

Read the whole thing.

LEAF Celebrates 25 Years!

LEAF – the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund – is a national charitable organization that works toward ensuring the law guarantees substantive equality for all women in Canada. LEAF is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2010.

On April 17 2010, Canadians will celebrate 25 years of constitutionally enriched equality rights for women since the enactment of Section 15, the equality section of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

LEAF, founded two days after the enactment of section 15 to steadfastly work on forging substantive equality rights for women, plans to joyously celebrate its 25th anniversary and the many milestones marked in those 25 years.

LEAF, also plans to launch itself into the next 25 years of substantive equality work, recognizing that the landscape has changed since 1985. LEAF needs to respond effectively and appropriately to the issues that prevent the substantive equality of all Canadians through its legal, education and law reform work if we are to build on the ground breaking work for which we are internationally recognized.

Your support will help with new initiatives:

  • advancing the interests of Aboriginal women in Canada by taking the call for a National Action Plan on missing and murdered Aboriginal women to the United Nations in March 2010;
  • making submissions to Parliamentary Standing Committees on pay equity (equal pay for work of equal value) as a fundamental human right and supporting the regulation of hate speech under s.13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act;
  • interventions at the Federal Court of Appeal, Ontario Court of Appeal and Supreme Court of Canada on issues relating to the equality rights of women who suffer multiple oppressions (such as sexual orientation, race, socio-economic status);
  • research and education on harassment and discrimination of youth in the workplace; (LEAF is launching a national youth survey and a national youth education program),
  • the launch of a National Youth Commission.
  • an International Legal Symposium in the fall of 2010

It is with much gratitude and excitement that we ask you to join us in the celebration. Without you, LEAF’s work would not be possible. In recognition of this, our 25th anniversary year, and to help launch LEAF into the next 25 years, we are inviting our supporters to join our 25th anniversary celebrations across Canada, as well as our national fundraising program.

If you would like to get involved with LEAF Edmonton, or if you are interested in finding out more about LEAF Edmonton’s 25th anniversary celebrations, please check out LEAF’s website at www.leaf.ca.

Women’s equality in Canada is regressing. Thanks, Harper!

Listen to the podcast

Saba hosted and we had lots of awesome stuff on the show today! Here are some quick links.

Jocelyn had news about a report recently released by women’s and labour groups which shows that women are losing ground when it comes to equality in Canada. You can find more information here, here, here, and here.

Laura brought us Radio Eve with Edmonton’s Ariane Mahryke Lemire, a singer-songwriter who performs in both French and English. She has just released a new CD, Décousue, out and you can catch her tomorrow night at Savoy!

Listen to the podcast

Legislating Sexualities in Alberta

Updated: Note the new location, FAB 220

The Political Science Graduate Association and the Faculty of Arts at the University of Alberta are presenting the panel Legislating Sexualities in Alberta.  It will be held from 12-2pm on Friday, February 5, 2010 in FAB 220, University of Alberta North Campus. More information can be found on the facebook page:

This panel will bring together a number of interested and informed actors to discuss the implications of the Alberta government’s actions and attitudes pertaining to sexual minorities. The motivations, repercussions and significance of the Adult Interdependent Relationships Act (AIRA), Bill 44, the de-listing of gender reassignment surgery, and eventual declaration of pride in Edmonton will be considered.


Lucas Crawford (English & Film Studies)
Dr. André P. Grace (Education)
Dr. Lois Harder (Political Science)
Dr. Cressida Heyes (Philosophy)
Rachel Notley (MLA for Edmonton-Strathcona)
Michael Phair (Education)

Laura has written a post for Blogosaurus Lex giving background information and asking questions on the issues this panel is discussing. From the post:

The de-listing of gender reassignment surgery (GRS, also known as Sexual Reassignment Surgery, SRS) for transgendered Albertans raises questions about who we deem worthy of medical treatment and how marginalized minority groups are treated in Alberta. It also raises questions about how people are defined under the law. Our society is heavily invested in the idea of a gender binary and our laws and bureaucratic processes reflect that. Transgendered people in Alberta, and in most places, must identify themselves as male or female on government documents (India legally recognizes the hijra as a third gender, but even this is problematic, in part because it groups all non-conforming gender expression in to an ‘other’ category). Not conforming with one’s legally designated gender can have many legal consequences (US websites) going beyond discrimination.

Check out Blogosaurus Lex to read the rest.