Tag Archives: Natasha Bakht

Natasha Bakht on the Niqab

photo of Natasha BakhtUniversity of Ottawa Law Professor Natasha Bakht has recently published a pair of op-eds critiquing the view that religious face coverings such as the niqab are “anti-woman.” They are well worth a read and can be found here (Ottawa Sun), and here (TVO).

The federal ban on wearing a face covering while taking the Oath of Citizenship has become an important election issue in recent days, following a Federal Court of Appeal decision (Canada (Citizenship and Immigration) v Ishaq, 2015 FCA 194) which dismissed the government’s appeal from a Federal Court decision finding that the ban was unlawful (Ishaq v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2015 FC 156).

The case was brought by a Muslim woman named Zunera Ishaq who has competed all of the steps towards becoming a Canadian citizen except the ceremony.  Ishaq says that she is unable to comply with the requirement to remove her niqab at the ceremony due to her faith.

A few favourite quotations from the op-eds:

Zunera Ishaq, the woman at the centre of the niqab-citizenship controversy has specifically said “It’s precisely because I won’t listen to how other people want me to live my life that I wear a niqab. Some of my own family members have asked me to remove it. I have told them that I prefer to think for myself.”

A central tenet of modern feminism is that we listen to the voices of women. We do not assume that we know what is better for them. The prime minister has made up a fictitious threat to women’s equality, essentially suggesting that niqab-wearing women have been duped. But there are real issues involving vulnerable women that need our government’s attention. In the past two decades, more than 1,000 Indigenous women have gone missing or have been murdered in Canadian communities.

(Ottawa Sun)

We could learn some things from niqab-wearing women and their quiet, determined conviction. I imagine it is not easy to wear a full-face veil in a country where the prime minister distorts facts in order to rile up public resentment. But they have persevered in their daily lives, going to work, raising their children, explaining their choices when asked and speaking out, as all Canadians should when faced with discrimination.


Professor Bakht has written extensively on the rights of niqab-wearing women. Her work was cited by the Supreme Court of Canada in the 2012 case about a sexual assault complainant who sought to testify while wearing the niqab (R v NS, 2012 SCC 72). She’s also an Indian contemporary dancer and choreography, which is just so cool.






N.S.: Something to read while we wait

Lots of people, I’m sure, are looking forward to seeing the Ontario Court of Appeal’s decision in N.S., a sexual assault case in which the complainant was ordered to remove her niqab after the accused (her uncle and his friend) argued it interfered with their right to a fair trial.

In anticipation of the decision, which should be handed down in the near future, check out this link to What’s in a Face? Demeanour Evidence in the Sexual Assault Context,  available on SSRN.  The author is Ottawa Law Prof. Natasha Bakht Natasha, who is currently on leave, is in a class of her own.  She’s an award winning dancer and choreographer in addition to her “day job”;  she edited Belonging and Banishment: Being Muslim in Canada.  I look forward to hearing her thoughts on this case when it comes down.

What’s in a Face is part of a larger collection edited by Elizabeth Sheehy, coming from Ottawa U Press.

SEXUAL ASSAULT LAW, PRACTICE AND ACTIVISM IN A POST-JANE DOE ERA, Elizabeth Sheehy, ed., University of Ottawa Press, Forthcoming 2011 .

The case began in 2007 when a woman, now 32 and identified only as N.S., told police that her cousin and uncle repeatedly sexually abused her while she was between the ages of six and 10.

During the preliminary inquiry, which is held to see if there is enough evidence to go to trial, the judge ordered N.S. to remove her veil to testify. …..

A lawyer for one of the defendants said N.S. has not said she refuses to testify without her face covered, just that she would feel more comfortable wearing the niqab.

Without being able to view the face of a witness, clues to her demeanour are lost and impede the defendants’ ability to fully cross-examine her, Michael Dineen said.

He gave an example of a teenage witness in a recent murder trial who changed her story on the stand after a defence lawyer questioned her about smirking after giving an answer.

from: http://www.cbc.ca/canada/toronto/story/2010/06/08/niqab-testimony-ontario.htm

Want more on N.S.?

Here’s LEAF’s Factum.

Here is a report from the hearing, which is kind of fun (the judges do seem to be leaning in N.S.’s favour). ah, the globe has put this one behind the pay wall.

Hey, and there’s no photo of a woman in a veil here, even though i could easily pick up a stock shot somewhere:  See  Why do Western Publishers have a Veil Fetish?  http://www.slate.com/id/2153013/ by Asra Q. Nomani for an interesting argument which will resonate in your brain each time you see a picture of a nameless veiled woman illustrating a media piece.