Recently, like many people, we came across an article that detailed an experience Rania El-Alloul had in a courtroom in Montreal. El-Alloul, a Muslim woman, was told by the judge, Eliana Marengo, that she would not hear her case because she was dressed inappropriately for court. In a recording attached to the article, Marengo is heard saying “Hats and sunglasses for example, are not allowed. And I don’t see why scarves on the head would be either.” El-Alloul was told to remove her headscarf or her case would be postponed and, as the article says, “Marengo then adjourned the case indefinitely.”
Following El-Alloul’s appearance in court, several politicians have publicly responded to the situation. Justin Trudeau responded that what happened was “just plain wrong” and he later stated that “we expect that there will be consequences.” Philippe Couillard said what happened was “disturbing.” The Prime Mnister’s Office’s response was that “if someone is not covering their face, we believe they should be allowed to testify.” Tom Mulcair also spoke out against the judge saying “I expect this individual to be given a full and proper hearing in short order” and that “It’s a simple matter of that person’s rights as a Canadian.” Sukania Pillay, executive director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association said that “The courtroom has every right to be secular” continues “but that doesn’t translate into telling people what they can and cannot wear in a manner that’s incompatible with their freedom of religion.”
So then the question is how something like this could happen when the Charter of Quebec Values, Bill 60, was never passed into law? When we presented our documentary after the election that ousted the Parti Québécois, many people felt like this issue was over. And to many, it does feel over since it’s not dominating newspaper headlines; however, as this case demonstrates, there is a lasting impact of the Charter of Quebec Values. The history of the reasonable accommodation debate in Quebec has a lasting impact on its citizens and every time the debate is reintroduced through something like the Charter, the feelings become impassioned, but they never truly disappear once the initial debate is over. Therefore, when Judge Marengo makes a claim that the appearance of El-Alloul’s headscarf in a courtroom is a threat to state neutrality, there some legitimacy to that claim because of issues like the Charter of Quebec Values. Our point with the documentary Tout cela est… is that regardless of whether or not the Charter of Quebec Values gets voted into law, the introduction of this topic into public debate has lasting impacts well beyond the initial trigger. Whether or not the Charter is mentioned by name when cases like El-Alloul’s arise, it is still present in the discussion, the language Judge Marengo uses about state neutrality is right out of the Charter of Quebec Values playbook. The impacts of the Charter remain even if the Charter itself disappears. And so even though the Charter was never voted into law, if we go by the Judge’s reaction to El-Alloul’s presence in court, you would think it had.
By: Mariam Esseghaier
Charter Flight Productions Team