Québec judge who told woman to remove hijab apologizes

25th Sep 2020

Nadine Osman

A Québec judge who refused to hold a hearing for a woman who declined to remove her hijab has apologized for the 5-year-old incident.

Judge Eliana Marengo told Rania El-Alloul, “You are not suitably dressed,” when she appeared in court on February 24, 2015, to get her impounded car back. The judge said the court was a secular space, and no religious symbols should be worn by those before it.

Marengo compared the hijab to non-religious attire that she bans in her courtroom (i.e. sunglasses and hats).

The incident sparked dozens of complaints with the Québec Council of the Magistrature.At an online hearing of Council of the Magistrature on September 8, a lawyer for the council read Marengo’s apology to El-Alloul.

In the letter Marengo says she ‘regrets any inconvenience’ her decision caused. Adding, ‘I never intended to offend you personally, or your beliefs. My reference to hats and sunglasses was simply meant to exemplify how the rules of decorum are generally applied in the courtroom, and was most certainly not meant to disrespect either you or your beliefs. Finally, Mrs. El-Alloul, I would like to offer you my most sincere apologies, which I hope you will accept. ‘

El-Alloul’s response letter to the apology was also read during the hearing, in it she wwrote ‘It was lucky that a CBC reporter heard what the judge said that day in a recording, and that it made the news. If it hadn’t, I may never have gotten back my rights. I would have not known where to turn. And maybe Justice Marengo herself would have kept turning away Québec Muslim women from the justice system.’

She continues, ‘My main objective in pursuing justice was to get a ruling that made it clear to the public that I had a right to wear a hijab in court, that anyone who wears religious clothing had the right to do so also.’

The apology has been released to the public in exchange for the dropping of the disciplinary complaints against Mareng. The judge has been fighting the disciplinary complaint in court for years, at one point challenging the authority of the council to even hear the complaint.

After a request from the legal team assisting El-Alloul, the Québec Court of Appeal in 2018 issued a judgment reaffirming that the Québec court dress code does not forbid headscarves if they constitute a sincere religious belief and don’t harm the public interest.

El-Alloul filed a formal complaint with the council after the incident, but it was rejected because of a technicality. However, dozens of other complaints were accepted, and the council convened a special panel of five judges to consider the case.

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