In December 2012, the Canadian Supreme Court issued a ruling in R v. NS, in which a Muslim woman had demanded – citing her right to freedom of religion, as protected in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms – the right to cover her face, while giving testimony in a court of law. The defendants, also Muslim, demanded the right to see her face, in particular during cross-examination, as part of their right to the demeanor evidence that is necessary to provide “full answer and defense” and more generally as part of their right to a fair trial. The Supreme Court’s ruling stated that trial judges are entitled to make determinations about whether facial coverings must be removed, by weighing the rights of the accused to a fair trial against the rights of the accuser to freedom of religious practice, via what the court termed a “sincerity test.” This article considers the impact of the ruling and ultimately suggests that the decision will harm trust relations in Canada. In particular, the justifications offered in the judgment fail to respect the central objective of Canadian multiculturalism, i. e., to build trust among citizens of diverse backgrounds as a foundation for integrating minority communities into the public sphere on fair terms.
I would like to thank Avigail Eisenberg, Marisa Iglesias, and two anonymous reviewers for this journal for comments on an earlier version. I would also like to thank the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for supporting this research.
©2016 by De Gruyter