Some of the claims we hear about the Quebec values charter tend to be quite categorical. Either freedom of religion is the utmost value, never to be limited by government, or else it must always yield before other values, rights or principles, especially that of gender equality.

Canadian law tends to take a balanced approach where rights are concerned. Rights are generally but not absolutely protected, because rights are not absolute. This is the position the Supreme Court of Canada took in a December 2012 case, in which a woman wearing a niqab for religious reasons wanted to testify in court against her two alleged sexual aggressors without removing it.

The accused, however, requested that the court order her to uncover her face while testifying, to ensure effective cross-examination, and to protect their right to make full answer and defence. When she refused, the question arose as to whether her freedom of religion ought to outweigh their right to a fair trial.

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