R. v. N.S. et al., (2012) 297 O.A.C. 200 (SCC)

JudgeMcLachlin, C.J.C., LeBel, Deschamps, Fish, Abella, Rothstein and Cromwell, JJ.
CourtSupreme Court (Canada)
Case DateDecember 20, 2012
JurisdictionCanada (Federal)
Citations(2012), 297 O.A.C. 200 (SCC);2012 SCC 72

R. v. N.S. (2012), 297 O.A.C. 200 (SCC)

MLB headnote and full text

[French language version follows English language version]

[La version française vient à la suite de la version anglaise]

.........................

Temp. Cite: [2012] O.A.C. TBEd. DE.069

N.S. (appellant) v. Her Majesty The Queen, M --- d S. and M --- l S. (respondents) and Ontario Human Rights Commission, Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic, Criminal Lawyers' Association (Ontario), Muslim Canadian Congress, South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario, Barreau du Québec, Canadian Civil Liberties Association, Women's Legal Education and Action Fund and Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations (intervenors)

(33989; 2012 SCC 72; 2012 CSC 72)

Indexed As: R. v. N.S. et al.

Supreme Court of Canada

McLachlin, C.J.C., LeBel, Deschamps, Fish, Abella, Rothstein and Cromwell, JJ.

December 20, 2012.

Summary:

A Muslim woman (N.S.) alleged repeated sexual assaults by her uncle and cousin (accused) when she was a child. The accused were charged with sexual offences and elected trial by judge and jury. Whenever N.S. was in public or the presence of males other than "direct" family members, her religious beliefs required that she be fully covered except for her eyes (hijab and niqab). At the preliminary inquiry, the accused sought an order that N.S. remove her niqab while testifying. N.S. objected on religious grounds. The only time N.S. had revealed her face in public was when she had her uncovered face photographed for her driver's licence, which was done by a female photographer behind a screen that protected N.S. from potential male onlookers. The preliminary inquiry judge determined that the issue involved balancing the conflicting constitutional rights of the accused's right to make full answer and defence and N.S.'s religious beliefs. The judge ruled that N.S.'s decision to have her face photographed, with the result that some males such as police officers could see her uncovered face, showed that there were exceptions to removing her niqab and that her "religious belief is not that strong". The judge ordered that N.S. uncover her face to testify. The preliminary inquiry did not proceed. N.S. sought certiorari to quash the judge's order, which she claimed violated her s. 2(a) Charter right to freedom of religion.

The Ontario Superior Court, in a judgment reported [2009] O.T.C. Uned. A81, quashed the judge's order because the judge lacked jurisdiction to balance the competing Charter values and N.S. was prejudiced by being questioned by the judge without first being given an opportunity to consult with counsel. The issue of whether N.S. could testify at the preliminary inquiry without having to remove her niqab was not determined by the court. That issue was remitted to the judge for redetermination based on the principles set out by the court. N.S. appealed. One of the accused cross-appealed. The issues on appeal were: (1) whether the preliminary inquiry judge had jurisdiction to order N.S. to remove her niqab before testifying; (2) if so, did the judge err in so ordering; and (3) should the Court of Appeal determine whether N.S. should be required to remove her niqab before testifying.

The Ontario Court of Appeal, in a judgment reported (2010), 269 O.A.C. 306, allowed the appeal in part and dismissed the cross-appeal. The court held that the preliminary inquiry judge had jurisdiction to determine whether N.S. had to remove her niqab before testifying. However, the court affirmed that the judge erred in ordering her to remove her niqab without first conducting the appropriate inquiry. The decision had to be made in the unique context of each case. The context was not adequately considered. The court remitted the matter for completion of the preliminary inquiry, with directions as to the proper procedure and factors to be considered in determining, in the context of this case, whether N.S. would be permitted to testify without removing her niqab. N.S. appealed.

The Supreme Court of Canada, Abella, J., dissenting, dismissed the appeal and remitted the matter to the preliminary inquiry judge to decide the issue in accordance with the court's reasons. The majority of the court (McLachlin, C.J.C., Deschamps, Fish and Cromwell, JJ.) held that "a witness who for sincere religious reasons wishes to wear the niqab while testifying in a criminal proceeding will be required to remove it if: (a) requiring the witness to remove the niqab is necessary to prevent a serious risk to the fairness of the trial, because reasonably available alternative measures will not prevent the risk; and (b) the salutary effects of requiring her to remove the niqab, including the effects on trial fairness, outweigh the deleterious effects of doing so, including the effects on freedom of religion". LeBel and Rothstein, JJ., held that a witness should never be allowed to testify while wearing a niqab. Abella, J., held that if the religious belief was sincere, a witness should never be required to remove her niqab as a condition precedent to testifying.

Editor's Note: Certain names in the following case have been initialized or the case otherwise edited to prevent the disclosure of identities where required by law, publication ban, Maritime Law Book's editorial policy or otherwise.

Civil Rights - Topic 382

Freedom of conscience and religion - Infringement of - What constitutes - [See Criminal Law - Topic 3540 ].

Civil Rights - Topic 3133

Trials - Due process, fundamental justice and fair hearings - Criminal and quasi-criminal proceedings - Right of accused to make full answer and defence - [See Criminal Law - Topic 3540 ].

Criminal Law - Topic 3540

Preliminary inquiry - Jurisdiction - To order witness to remove head covering (e.g., niqab) - The accused were charged with sexually assaulting N.S. - At issue was whether N.S. had to remove her head covering (niqab) to testify at the preliminary inquiry - The Supreme Court of Canada held that "a witness who for sincere religious reasons wishes to wear the niqab while testifying in a criminal proceeding will be required to remove it if: (a) requiring the witness to remove the niqab is necessary to prevent a serious risk to the fairness of the trial, because reasonably available alternative measures will not prevent the risk; and (b) the salutary effects of requiring her to remove the niqab, including the effects on trial fairness, outweigh the deleterious effects of doing so, including the effects on freedom of religion" - The court stated that "there is a strong connection between the ability to see the face of a witness and a fair trial. Being able to see the face of a witness is not the only - or indeed perhaps the most important - factor in cross-examination or accurate credibility assessment. But its importance is too deeply rooted in our criminal justice system to be set aside absent compelling evidence. However, whether the ability to observe a witness's face impacts trial fairness in any particular case will depend on the evidence that the witness is to provide. Where evidence is uncontested, credibility assessment and cross-examination are not in issue; therefore, being unable to see the witness's face will not impinge on the accused's fair trial rights ... If wearing the niqab poses no serious risk to trial fairness, a witness who wishes to wear it for sincere religious reasons may do so. ... If both freedom of religion and trial fairness are engaged on the facts ... the answer lies in a just and proportionate balance between freedom of religion on the one hand, and trial fairness on the other" - The issue then becomes accommodation of the potentially conflicting claims - Absent a reasonably available alternative, the issue was whether "the salutary effects of requiring the witness to remove the niqab, including the effects on trial fairness, outweigh the deleterious effects of doing so, including the effects on freedom of religion", which was a proportionality inquiry - The court opined that "where the liberty of the accused is at stake, the witness's evidence is central to the case and her credibility vital, the possibility of a wrongful conviction must weigh heavily in the balance, favouring removal of the niqab" - See paragraphs 1 to 44.

Cases Noticed:

Canadian Broadcasting Corp. v. Dagenais et al., [1994] 3 S.C.R. 835; 175 N.R. 1; 76 O.A.C. 81, refd to. [para. 7].

R. v. Mentuck (C.G.), [2001] 3 S.C.R. 442; 277 N.R. 160; 163 Man.R.(2d) 1; 269 W.A.C. 1, refd to. [para. 7].

Syndicat Northcrest v. Amselem et al., [2004] 2 S.C.R. 551; 323 N.R. 59, refd to. [para. 11].

R. v. Mills (B.J.), [1999] 3 S.C.R. 668; 248 N.R. 101; 244 A.R. 201; 209 W.A.C. 201, refd to. [para. 15].

R. v. Rose (J.), [1998] 3 S.C.R. 262; 232 N.R. 83; 115 O.A.C. 201, refd to. [para. 15].

R. v. Seaboyer and Gayme, [1991] 2 S.C.R. 577; 128 N.R. 81; 48 O.A.C. 81, refd to. [para. 15].

R. v. Levogiannis (1990), 43 O.A.C. 161; 1 O.R.(3d) 351 (C.A.), affd. [1993] 4 S.C.R. 475; 160 N.R. 371; 67 O.A.C. 321, refd to. [para. 22].

R. v. J.S., [2010] 1 S.C.R. 3; 398 N.R. 274; 282 B.C.A.C. 108; 476 W.A.C. 108; 2010 SCC 1, affing. (2008), 261 B.C.A.C. 52; 440 W.A.C. 52; 2008 BCCA 401, refd to. [para. 23].

R. v. Osolin, [1993] 4 S.C.R. 595; 162 N.R. 1; 38 B.C.A.C. 81; 62 W.A.C. 81, refd to. [para. 24].

R. v. Lyttle (M.G.), [2004] 1 S.C.R. 193; 316 N.R. 52; 184 O.A.C. 1; 2004 SCC 5, refd to. [para. 24].

Housen v. Nikolaisen et al., [2002] 2 S.C.R. 235; 286 N.R. 1; 219 Sask.R. 1; 272 W.A.C. 1; 2002 SCC 33, refd to. [para. 25].

White v. R., [1947] S.C.R. 268, refd to. [para. 25].

R. v. R.W., [1992] 2 S.C.R. 122; 137 N.R. 214; 54 O.A.C. 164, refd to. [para. 25].

Police v. Razamjoo, [2005] D.C.R. 408 (N.Z.), refd to. [para. 26].

R. v. Oakes, [1986] 1 S.C.R. 103; 65 N.R. 87; 14 O.A.C. 335, refd to. [para. 35].

Hutterian Brethren of Wilson Colony et al. v. Alberta, [2009] 2 S.C.R. 567; 390 N.R. 202; 460 A.R. 1; 462 W.A.C. 1; 2009 SCC 37, refd to. [para. 36].

A.M. v. Ryan, [1997] 1 S.C.R. 157; 207 N.R. 81; 82 B.C.A.C. 81; 138 W.A.C. 81, refd to. [para. 39].

R. v. Arcuri (G.), [2001] 2 S.C.R. 828; 274 N.R. 274; 150 O.A.C. 126; 2001 SCC 54, refd to. [para. 40].

R. v. Hart (W.A.) (1999), 174 N.S.R.(2d) 165; 532 A.P.R. 165 (C.A.), refd to. [para. 43].

R. v. Swain, [1991] 1 S.C.R. 933; 125 N.R. 1; 47 O.A.C. 81, refd to. [para. 46].

Multani v. Commission scolaire Marguerite-Bourgeoys et al., [2006] 1 S.C.R. 256; 345 N.R. 201; 2006 SCC 6, refd to. [para. 46].

Human Rights Commission (Ont.) and O'Malley v. Simpsons-Sears, [1985] 2 S.C.R. 536; 64 N.R. 161; 12 O.A.C. 241, refd to. [para. 54].

Commission scolaire régionale de Chambly v. Syndicat de l'enseignement de Champlain et autres, [1994] 2 S.C.R. 525; 169 N.R. 281; 62 Q.A.C. 241, refd to. [para. 54].

Renaud v. Board of Education of Central Okanagan No. 23 and Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 523, [1992] 2 S.C.R. 970; 141 N.R. 185; 13 B.C.A.C. 245; 24 W.A.C. 245, refd to. [para. 54].

Saumur v. Quebec (City), [1953] S.C.R. 299, refd to. [para. 54].

R. v. Big M Drug Mart Ltd., [1985] 1 S.C.R. 295; 58 N.R. 81; 60 A.R. 161, refd to. [para. 54].

R. v. Edwards Books and Art Ltd. - see R. v. Videoflicks et al.

R. v. Videoflicks et al., [1986] 2 S.C.R. 713; 71 N.R. 161; 19 O.A.C. 239, refd to. [para. 54].

S.L. et al. v. Commission scolaire des Chênes et al., [2012] 1 S.C.R. 235; 426 N.R. 352; 2012 SCC 7, refd to. [para. 55].

R. v. Creighton (D.J.) and Crawford (C.), [1995] 1 S.C.R. 858; 179 N.R. 161; 81 O.A.C. 359, refd to. [para. 62].

Bruker v. Marcovitz, [2007] 3 S.C.R. 607; 270 N.R. 1; 2007 SCC 54, refd to. [para. 70].

Reference Re Secession of Quebec, [1998] 2 S.C.R. 217; 228 N.R. 203, refd to. [para. 74].

Reference Re Remuneration of Judges of the Provincial Court (P.E.I.), [1997] 3 S.C.R. 3; 217 N.R. 1; 206 A.R. 1; 156 W.A.C. 1; 121 Man.R.(2d) 1; 158 W.A.C. 1; 156 Nfld. & P.E.I.R. 1; 483 A.P.R. 1, refd to. [para. 74].

Canadian Broadcasting Corp. v. New Brunswick (Attorney General), [1996] 3 S.C.R. 480; 203 N.R. 169; 182 N.B.R.(2d) 81; 463 A.P.R. 81, refd to. [para. 75].

Reference Re Same-Sex Marriage, [2004] 3 S.C.R. 698; 328 N.R. 1; 2004 SCC 79, refd to. [para. 85].

R. v. O'Connor (H.P.), [1995] 4 S.C.R. 411; 191 N.R. 1; 68 B.C.A.C. 1; 112 W.A.C. 1, refd to. [para. 95].

Faryna v. Chorny, [1952] 2 D.L.R. 354 (B.C.C.A.), refd to. [para. 99].

R. v. Pelletier (V.A.) (1995), 165 A.R. 138; 89 W.A.C. 138 (C.A.), refd to. [para. 100].

R. v. Levert (G.) (2001), 150 O.A.C. 208; 159 C.C.C.(3d) 71 (C.A.), refd to. [para. 100].

R. v. A.F. (2005), 376 A.R. 124; 360 W.A.C. 124 (C.A.), refd to. [para. 102].

R. v. R.S.M., [1999] B.C.A.C. Uned. 81; 1999 BCCA 218, refd to. [para. 102].

R. v. Davis (D.J.) (1995), 165 A.R. 243; 89 W.A.C. 243 (C.A.), refd to. [para. 102].

R. v. Chapdelaine (G.H.), [2004] A.R. Uned. 20; 2004 ABQB 39, refd to. [para. 104].

R. v. Butt (W.J.) (2008), 280 Nfld. & P.E.I.R. 129; 859 A.P.R. 129 (Nfld. Prov. Ct.), refd to. [para. 104].

R. v. Khan, [1990] 2 S.C.R. 531; 113 N.R. 53; 41 O.A.C. 353, refd to. [para. 105].

Authors and Works Noticed:

Bakht, Natasha, Objection, Your Honour! Accommodating Niqab-Wearing Women in Courtrooms, in Legal Practice and Cultural Diversity (Ralph Grillo et al., eds.) (2009), p. 128 [para. 94].

Bingham, Tom, The Rule of Law (2010), p. 8 [para. 74].

Canadian Judicial Council, Model Jury Instructions, Part I, Preliminary Instructions, 4.11 Assessing Testimony, updated March 2011 (online: http://www.cjc-ccm.gc.ca/ english/lawyers-en.asp?sel Menu=lawyers_NCJI-Jury-Instruction-Preliminary-2011-03_en.asp#_ Toc287950397), generally [para. 101].

Morrison, Barry R., Porter, Laura L., and Fraser, Ian H., The Role of Demeanour in Assessing the Credibility of Witnesses (2007), 33 Advocates' Q. 170, pp. 179, 189 [para. 98].

Nussbaum, Martha C., Liberty of Conscience: In Defense of America's Tradition of Religious Equality (2008), pp. 117, 167 [para. 93].

Weinrib, Sara, An Exemption for Sincere Believers: The Challenge of Alberta v. Hutterian Brethren of Wilson Colony (2011), 56 McGill L.J. 719, p. 728 [para. 88].

Counsel:

David B. Butt, for the appellant;

Elise Nakelsky and Benita Wassenaar, for the respondent, Her Majesty the Queen;

Douglas Usher and Michael Dineen, for the respondent, M---d S;

No one appeared for the respondent, M---l S;

Written submissions only by Anthony D. Griffin and Reema Khawja, for the intervener, the Ontario Human Rights Commission;

Rahool P. Agarwal, Michael Kotrly, Vasuda Sinha and Brydie Bethell, for the intervener, the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic;

Frank Addario and Emma Phillips, for the intervener, the Criminal Lawyers' Association (Ontario);

Tyler Hodgson, Heather Pessione and Ewa Krajewska, for the intervener, the Muslim Canadian Congress;

Written submissions only by Ranjan K. Agarwal and Daniel T. Holden, for the intervener, the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario;

Written submissions only by Babak Barin and Sylvie Champagne, for the intervener, Barreau du Québec;

Written submissions only by Bradley E. Berg and Rahat Godil, for the intervener, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association;

Written submissions only by Susan M. Chapman and Joanna Birenbaum, for the intervener, the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund;

Faisal Bhabha, for the intervener, the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Solicitors of Record:

David B. Butt, Toronto, Ontario, for the appellant;

Attorney General of Ontario, Toronto, Ontario, for the respondent, Her Majesty the Queen;

Michael Dineen, Toronto, Ontario, for the respondent, M---d S.;

Ontario Human Rights Commission, Toronto, Ontario, for the intervener, the Ontario Human Rights Commission;

Norton Rose OR, Toronto, Ontario; Simcoe Chambers, Toronto, Ontario, for the intervener, the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic;

Sack Goldblatt Mitchell, Toronto, Ontario, for the intervener, the Criminal Lawyers' Association (Ontario);

Borden Ladner Gervais, Toronto, Ontario, for the intervener, the Muslim Canadian Congress;

Bennett Jones, Toronto, Ontario, for the intervener, the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario;

BCF, Montréal, Quebec; Barreau du Québec, Montreal, Quebec, for the intervener, Barreau du Québec;

Blake, Cassels & Graydon, Toronto, Ontario, for the intervener, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association;

Green & Chercover, Toronto, Ontario; Women's Legal Education and Action Fund, Toronto, Ontario, for the intervener, the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund;

Peggy Smith Law Office, Kingston, Ontario, for the intervener, the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations.

This appeal was heard on December 8, 2011, before McLachlin, C.J.C., LeBel, Deschamps, Fish, Abella, Rothstein and Cromwell, JJ., of the Supreme Court of Canada.

On December 20, 2012, the judgment of the Supreme Court of Canada was delivered in both official languages and the following opinions were filed:

McLachlin, C.J.C. (Deschamps, Fish and Cromwell, JJ., concurring) - see paragraphs 1 to 57;

LeBel, J. (Rothstein, J., concurring) - see paragraphs 58 to 79;

Abella, J., dissenting - see paragraphs 80 to 110.

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