A Canadian judge has come under criticism for asking a Muslim woman to remove her headscarf in a Montreal courtroom.

When Rania El-Alloul appeared in court to appeal a routine automobile insurance board action, presiding Judge Eliana Marengo asked why she was wearing a headscarf. El-Alloul replied, “because I am a Muslim.” After a 30-minute recess, Morengo returned to the bench and told El-Alloul that she was not “suitably dressed” for the courtroom.

Audio recordings verify that the judge explained to El-Alloul that the courtroom is a “secular place” pointing out that they lack of religious symbols in the room, either displayed on the walls or worn by court personnel. “The same rules need to be applied to everyone,” Judge Morengo said, likening the headscarf to a “garment” such as a hat or sunglasses that would also be unsuitable attire in her courtroom.

Marengo gave Rania El-Alloul the choice to remove the garment or move for a postponement to retain an attorney. The Muslim woman refused to remove the headscarf, and said she could not afford a lawyer because she is on welfare. The matter was immediately dismissed.

The action was well with Morengo’s discretion based on regulations for the Court of Quebec providing, “Any person appearing before the court must be suitably dressed.” The language of the regulation gives each judge wide leeway in interpreting what they consider suitable in their courtroom.

El-Alloul told the Canadian Broadcasting Company, “What happened in court made me feel afraid. I felt like I’m not a Canadian anymore,” going on to say that Morengo did not deserve to be a judge. Morengo has also come under fire from Justin Trudeau, the liberal leader in the Canadian Parliament, and the Canadian Muslim Forum.

Many Muslim women wear the headscarf, or hijab, as a sign of adherence to their Islamic faith, based on admonitions from the Quran and tradition. The practice has been the subject of fierce debate in Quebec amid efforts to prohibit public face covering as a matter of cultural assimilation following bans enacted in France and Turkey.


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