The judge compared the hijab to a hat and sunglasses, saying she wouldn’t hear a case from someone wearing those, either.
More than four years after a Quebec court judge refused to hear the case of a woman because she was wearing a hijab, the Conseil de la magistrature finally held a disciplinary hearing into the judge’s conduct.
In February 2015, Judge Eliana Marengo refused to hear the case of Montreal woman Rania El-Alloul.
El-Alloul was in court trying to get her impounded car back.
“In my opinion, you are not suitably dressed,” Marengo told El-Alloul at the time. She told her the court was a secular space, and no religious symbols should be worn by those before it.
Marengo compared the hijab to a hat and sunglasses, saying she wouldn’t hear a case from someone wearing those, either.
Marengo’s remarks prompted widespread outrage at the time.
After a request from a legal team assisting El-Alloul, the Quebec Court of Appeal issued a judgment last October reaffirming that the Quebec court dress code does not forbid head scarves if they constitute a sincere religious belief and don’t harm the public interest.
The Conseil de la magistrature is the body responsible for disciplining judges in Quebec.
El-Alloul filed a formal complaint after the incident, but it was rejected because of a technicality.
However, dozens of other people filed complaints, and the council decided to convene a special panel of five judges for a disciplinary hearing Friday.
Judge argues report wasn’t objective
It was the first time Marengo and El-Alloul had been together in a courtroom since the day of the incident.
The hearing began with a request from Marengo’s lawyer, Raymond Doray, that the lawyer representing the council should recuse himself.
Their role is to advise the panel of judges and experts that hears the complaint, and to question witnesses on the panel’s behalf.
Doray is alleging that the lawyer, Pierre Laurin, went far beyond that in a report he prepared for the panel summarizing the complaint.
Laurin’s report concluded that Judge Marengo had clearly violated several provisions of the code of conduct for judges when she refused to hear El-Alloul’s case.
It also suggested that the breaches were serious enough that the panel should consider removing Marengo from the bench.
In arguments Friday, Doray alleged that this report demonstrated clearly that Laurin wasn’t impartial, and that his biased report could influence the panel in way that would be unfair to Judge Marengo.
“He’s taking positions and expressing opinions. I’ve never seen such a muscular, categorical attack on the rules of procedure,” Doray said.
The panel denied Doray’s request on Friday afternoon. The hearing has been suspended to allow Marengo to challenge the panel’s decision in Quebec Superior Court.
The suspension likely means the hearing will be delayed for a few months.