In R v NS the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) was asked to consider a straightforward question: must a Muslim woman remove a niqab (face covering leaving only the eyes showing) when giving evidence in a sexual assault case in which she is the complainant. Two justices said ‘yes’; one said ‘almost always, no’; and the majority said ‘maybe yes, maybe no – it depends’. The matter was then returned to the preliminary inquiry judge to make the actual decision, which could still be subject again to appeal to the SCC. The court divided on the three available answers to the question: yes, no and maybe. The division, however, leaned in favour of requiring removal of the niqab because the reasons for judgment favouring ‘maybe’ were concurred in in the result by those favouring removal. In the end, the court did not give a clear answer to the question, but rather provided a four-part test for trial judges who must continue to make the decision, subject to appeal. The practical utility of this response may be doubted.
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