The Supreme Court of Canada heard arguments Thursday about whether a Muslim woman accusing her cousin and uncle of childhood sexual abuse should be allowed to wear a full face-covering on the witness stand.

The case, which pits the woman's freedom of religion against the right to a fair trial for the accused, will have national significance for Muslim women in the Canadian justice system.

Joanna Birenbaum, of the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund, said the case will have important repercussions throughout Canada because "if the court requires women who wear the niqab to remove them to testify . . . the result will be that niqab-wearing women will not report sexual assaults at all, and the message is that they can be raped with impunity."

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