Legal News and Commentary

Woman Denied Right to Wear Hijab in Court Declines $47,000

It doesn’t get much better than this. Many are aware of the story surrounding Rania El-Alloul. Her proceeding before a court in Quebec was entirely unremarkable. The insurance board had seized her vehicle and she wanted it back. I don’t know the details and they aren’t really important. Courts hear this kind of thing all the time. But the judge declined to hear Ms. El-Alloul in his courtroom because she was wearing a hijab. He told her that the court is secular, and other people remove their head coverings so she should also.

This decision is idiotic on any number of levels. I have a friend who serves very admirably as duty counsel while wearing her hijab in the Scarborough Courthouse. Just last week I represented a Jewish man who was wearing his kippah. It would never occur to any judge to raise this as a problem. It’s absurd. Just last week this was referred to as the real face of judicial activism and I think that’s a great way to describe it. No one asked the court to take issue with this woman’s hijab. The judge in question, for reasons known only to himself but which are surely rooted in his ideas about Quebec values and culture, took issue with it on his own initiative.

In typical fashion, the Internet responded to this cause célèbre with a crowd-funding campaign. Because that’s what you do, right? And $47,000 was raised to get this woman a new car. Which is a really sweet sentiment, but even I think it’s a little misplaced. This woman doesn’t need a new car. She just needs her day in court. So what did she do? She declined the money and suggested it be spent to safeguard the rights of other people in situations similar to her own. And truly, she doesn’t need it anymore. Unspoken in this article is something I know to be true. She has a phalanx of lawyers ready to show up with her for her next court date. She may or may not win her original action, but whatever happens she’ll stand before the court in her hijab.

Sometimes, the law is difficult and frustrating. But it has good days too. And this principled woman’s stand is definitely a high point. At a time when Muslims are so often vilified she is standing on higher moral ground than most of us could manage. Let’s face it – almost any one of us would take the money and say “thank you, thank you, thank you” but wouldn’t actually refuse it. This woman wants her rights as a Canadian more than anything else. We should all hold them as precious as she does.

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