Ontario’s highest court is considering the thorny issue of whether a sexual assault complainant should remove her niqab to face her alleged attackers in court.

The issue has drawn attention from several groups, who are not only split on whether or not she should be able to wear the veil on the witness stand, but also on the fundamental questions the issue evokes.

Lawyers for no fewer than seven parties were making submissions starting yesterday before the Court of Appeal for Ontario.

Some argue it is about Charter rights such as freedom of religion and fair trial rights, others say it is about re-victimization of alleged rape victims, and some say it is about what the niqab represents to all women.

The case began in 2007 when a woman, now 32 and identified only as N.S., told police that her cousin and uncle repeatedly sexually abused her while she was between six and 10 years old.

During the preliminary inquiry, the judge ordered N.S. to remove her veil to testify. After going through the Superior Court the case has now ended up at the Appeal Court.

Without being able to view the face of a witness, clues to her demeanor are lost and impede the defendants’ ability to fully cross-examine her, Michael Dineen said.

He gave an example of a teenage witness in a recent murder trial who changed her story on the stand after a defence lawyer questioned her about smirking after giving an answer.

But since her eyes are visible, what’s being lost in terms of demeanor pales in comparison to forcing N.S. to go against her religious beliefs, her lawyer argued.