Quebec judge who asked woman to remove hijab apologizes, 5 years later

A Quebec court judge, who refused to hear the case of a Montreal woman because she was wearing a hijab, has finally apologized for the incident, more than five years after it happened.

At an online hearing of the Quebec Council of the Magistrature on Tuesday, a lawyer for the council read Judge Eliana Marengo’s apology to Rania El-Alloul.

The council is the body responsible for disciplining judges in the province.

In a written statement, Marengo said she acknowledged that she erred in asking El-Alloul to remove her hijab, that she regretted any inconvenience and that she never intended any offence or disrespect.

Marengo addressed the fact that at the time she had compared El-Alloul’s hijab to a hat and sunglasses being worn in the courtroom.

“My reference to hats and sunglasses was simply meant to exemplify how the rules of decorum are generally applied in the courtroom and was most certainly not meant to disrespect either you or your beliefs,” Marengo said.

She concluded by offering El-Alloul her most sincere apologies.

El-Alloul prepared a statement in response, which was also presented to the council.

“I accept her apology. This is what my faith teaches me,” El-Alloul said.

‘Not suitably dressed’

The controversy dates back to February 2015 when El-Alloul was in court trying to get back her impounded car.

“In my opinion, you are not suitably dressed,” Marengo told El-Alloul at the time. The judge said the court was a secular space, and no religious symbols should be worn by those before it.

The incident happened in Quebec court in Montreal. El-Alloul was seeking to recover her car, which had been impounded. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

The case was suspended, and El-Alloul eventually got her car back. But the story made headlines around the world.

Dozens of people, including El-Alloul, ultimately filed complaints with the Council of the Magistrature.

El-Alloul’s complaint was dismissed on a technicality, but the council agreed to look into the dozens of other complaints on the matter.

Marengo challenged the authority of the council to examine the complaints. She sought leave to appeal a Quebec Court of Appeal decision that unanimously found she was wrong to bar El-Alloul from her courtroom.

But in 2018, the Supreme Court refused to hear Marengo’s challenge.

Change of heart

The Council of the Magistrature sent a letter earlier this summer to the complainants, informing them of today’s hearing.

“The purpose of this hearing will be to study a settlement proposal from the prosecutors on file, including a letter of apology from Judge Marengo to Mrs. El-Alloul,” the letter said.

The council also told the complainants the apology would be released to the public, in exchange for dropping the disciplinary charges against Marengo.

The settlement was jointly proposed by Marengo’s lawyers and the lawyer handling the complaint for the council.