A Toronto sexual assault complainant known as N.S. had no inkling last year that she would ignite a nationwide debate by asking to testify wearing a niqab.

Reaction was immediate. Debate raged in the news media and the Internet, and the defendants – her cousin and uncle – argued that the complainant's truthfulness could not be gauged if her face was hidden.

On Tuesday, the Ontario Court of Appeal becomes the highest court yet to face the thorny question of whether a defendant has an absolute right to face his accuser.

Some legal intervenors in the appeal argue that veils provide a convenient shield for lying witnesses. Others firmly reject the notion that facial expressions provide a reliable guide to honesty. And at least one group maintains that the act of removing an alleged rape victim's veil is laden with violent, sexual overtones.

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