Quebec's judicial council this week received a complaint concerning a Quebec provincial court judge. It should be an open-and-shut case.
Judge Eliana Marengo refused to begin a proceeding involving a Muslim woman because she was wearing a hijab, which covers the head but not the face. The Court of Quebec judge, who was appointed in 1996, cited courtroom dress codes in refusing to hear Rania El-Alloul – ridiculously comparing her attire to someone wearing sunglasses in court.
The case has received so much notice because it is so out of the ordinary. That's the good news. When was the last time you heard of a person being thrown out of courtroom for wearing a kippah? Or a Sikh turban? Not in Canada. The rights of Canadians in such matters are well established, and well known.
That this highly unusual instance of religious discrimination involves a veteran judge who works out of the main courthouse in Canada's second-largest city – not in Hérouxville – makes it all the more perplexing.
Judge Marengo's shaky grasp of Charter rights notwithstanding, the incident is of a piece with a troubling trend.
In a recent Quebec opinion poll, two-thirds of respondents approved the decision by municipal officials in Shawinigan to prevent a mosque from opening in an industrial park. Meanwhile, the fallout from a court decision affirming a new Canadian's right to wear a niqab during a citizenship ceremony continues apace.
Canada's constitution, laws and long-standing practices have made our country an island of freedom – including freedom of religion and conscience. But of late, whipping up anti-Muslim sentiment has become a go-to political tactic for at least some politicians.
For this, we can thank former Action démocratique du Québec leader Mario Dumont and his enablers in the tabloid press, who ginned up a series of "reasonable accommodation" controversies in the winter of 2006. A line can be drawn from there to the Parti Québécois' Charter of Values, and on to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's comments regarding the niqab case. It's unbecoming. Canada is a country built on inclusion and religious freedom.
Recent history has served as a reminder we live in dangerous times. But the risk isn't posed by a Muslim woman going to court, believing she doesn't have to choose between country and faith.