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Driving with a suspended licence: Quebec Judge refuses to hear Rania El-Alloul unless she removes her headscarf

El-Alloul was in court to apply to get her car back after it was seized by Quebec’s automobile insurance board, the SAAQ. ‘The car was seized after police stopped El-Alloul for driving with a suspended licence.

Judge Eliana Marengo is heard telling Rania El-Alloul courtroom is a secular place in audio obtained by CBC

By Steve Rukavina, CBC News Posted: Feb 26, 2015 4:28 PM ET Last Updated: Feb 26, 2015 10:15 PM ET

A Quebec judge told a woman appearing in her Montreal courtroom she would not hear her case until she removed her hijab.

In an audio recording of the proceedings obtained by CBC News, Judge Eliana Marengo is heard telling Rania El-Alloul on Tuesday that the courtroom is a secular place and that she is not suitably dressed.

“Hats and sunglasses for example, are not allowed.  And I don’t see why scarves on the head would be either,” Marengo says in the recording.  

 RAW: Court audio of Quebec judge ordering woman to remove hijab3:26

“The same rules need to be applied to everyone. I will therefore not hear you if you are wearing a scarf on your head, just as I would not allow a person to appear before me wearing a hat or sunglasses on his or her head, or any other garment not suitable for a court proceeding.”

El-Alloul was in court to apply to get her car back after it was seized by Quebec’s automobile insurance board, the SAAQ.

‘The judge should have known better. It’s not the first time somebody walks into a courtroom with a religious dress’– Sameer Zuberi, Canadian Muslim Forum’

The car was seized after police stopped El-Alloul’sson for driving with a suspended licence. In such cases, the board keeps the car for a month. If someone wants it back sooner, they have to appear before a Court of Quebec judge to make a request. That’s what El-Alloul was trying to do Tuesday afternoon.

When El-Alloul first appeared before Marengo, the judge asked her why she had a scarf on her head. El-Alloul replied that it was because she is a Muslim. The judge then said she would take a 30-minute recess.  

When Marengo returned, she told El-Alloul she had a choice: remove her headscarf immediately or apply for a postponement in order to consult a lawyer. El-Alloul replied that she couldn’t afford a lawyer and that she didn’t want to postpone the case. Marengo then adjourned the case indefinitely.

‘I felt that I’m not Canadian anymore’

In an interview, El-Alloul said she couldn’t believe what was happening.

“When I came the first day when I made landing in Canada, I was wearing my hijab,” she recalled.

“When I swore by God to be a good Canadian citizen I was wearing my hijab, and the judge, I shook hands with him the same day I became Canadian. I was really very happy. But what happened in court made me feel afraid. I felt that I’m not Canadian anymore.”

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