Édifice Ernest-Cormier, the Quebec Court of Appeal building in Old Montreal (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

If ever a “do-over” was needed in a courtroom, it was last week in Montreal.  The denial of a hearing to Rania El-Alloul by Quebec Court Judge Eliana Morengo unless or until she removed her headscarf  – which she wears out of religious conviction as a practising Muslim – is one of the more disturbing displays of cold-blooded ignorance by a Canadian public servant within recent memory.

Canada’s reputation for navigating the challenging waters of an increasingly diverse society suffers a massive blow at the hands – and the gavel – of a jurist responsible for upholding the rule of law who denies equal access to that law to a Muslim woman whose religious convictions require her to cover her head.  Would Judge Morengo have responded similarly had a religious Sikh man appeared before her in his turban, or if a Roman Catholic sister had appeared before her in full habit?  What about an observant Orthodox Jewish woman wearing a wig, or her husband in his kippah?  Perhaps the answer is “yes” – which would not make last week’s decision any more defensible – but, given rising concerns about “Islamist extremism” and misdirected expressions of Islamophobia in Quebec and elsewhere, one suspects otherwise.

In 2014, the Mosaic Institute released a research report entitled The Perception and Reality of ‘Imported Conflict’ in Canada that was funded by the Government of Canada’s Kanishka Project.  One of the clear findings of that report confirmed what common sense had already taught us: more inclusive societies are also safer societies.  Last week’s ill-advised decision affects not only Ms. El-Alloul, but also thousands of other Canadians whose religious convictions compel them to dress and/or cover their heads in particular ways. Moreover, it means that Canada is not as safe today as it was the day before Ms. El-Alloul’s court appearance.

Tellingly, Ms. El-Alloul told the CBC in an interview that upon hearing the judge’s words, she “felt (she was) not Canadian anymore” and that she is now “afraid” – presumably of what else the state may have in store for her and for others who do not dress or look like everybody else.  If that is the message that Ms. El-Alloul took away from her encounter with Judge Morengo, it seems a fairly safe assumption that younger Canadians may also infer that Canada does not want – or include – them either.  If so, some of the more impressionable or vulnerable among them may naturally begin to look for that missing inclusion elsewhere.  That search may even lead some of them – and ultimately expose all of us – to people, places and beliefs that have even less in common with Canada’s multicultural heritage than does Judge Morengo’s very flawed ruling.

John Monahan

Executive Director

The Mosaic Institute