R v NS 2012 SCC 72 – Assessing the Contours of the Freedom to Wear the Niqab in Canada

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Ofrath, Naama
Niqab , Religious Freedom
This thesis uses the recently decided R v NS to assess the contours of the freedom to wear the niqab, as part of religious freedom, in Canada. By criticizing the majority and concurring opinions I argue that, properly understood, a witness’s religious freedom should protect her from an order to unveil when she is testifying in court. I show that the concurring opinion holds the witness to an illiberal, unfair standard of personal behaviour that fails to respect the witness’s religious freedom. I show that the majority’s decision, though following a justified liberal process of balancing rights, failed to protect NS’s meaningful choice to practice her religion, a standard set by the court in Hutterian Brethren. I then assess the broader implications of R v NS. I argue that in theoretical terms R v NS reaffirms Canada’s commitment to a liberal system of reciprocal rights and rejects a perfectionist approach according to which societal values can override rights. These theoretical lessons are then applied to other policies regulating the veil. I argue that despite its shortcomings, R v NS should generate optimism that perfectionist policies will be rejected and that the veil will only be limited minimally and only when the limit is necessary to uphold other legitimate aims.
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