In Your Face: Law, Justice, and Niqab-Wearing Women in Canada

By Natasha Bakht

Foreword by Constance Backhouse

Book cover for In Your Face: Law, Justice, and Niqab-Wearing Women in Canada by Natasha Bakht. The cover shows a woman wearing a niqab face covering. Her eyes are smiling and her fingers are forming a peace sign.

ISBN (print): 978-1-55221-549-4
ISBN (e-book): 978-1-55221-550-0
Publication date: October 2020
Page count: 266 pp

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This book explores the experiences of a group of women in Canada who are small in numbers yet have garnered much legal, political, and social attention in recent years. Muslim women who cover their faces with a veil arouse visceral reactions in people who, despite exposure to diverse ways of living through multicultural urban environments, seem to have fixed notions of how women ought to live the good life. Politicians have denounced the niqab for a variety of reasons, calling on Muslim women to simply take it off. Where such persuasion has failed, legislative attempts have been made, some successfully, to prohibit women from covering their faces in certain contexts, including courtrooms, citizenship ceremonies, public spaces, and while working in the public service. This book analyzes niqab bans in Canada while also drawing on interviews with niqab-wearing women to reveal their complex identities and multiple motivations for dressing in this way.

  • Foreword
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction: Meet Your Neighbours
  • Chapter One: Listening to the Voices of Niqab‑Wearing Women
  • Chapter Two: Veiled Objections: Facing Public Opposition to the Niqab
  • Chapter Three: What’s in a Face? Demeanour Evidence and Niqab-Wearing Women in Courtrooms
  • Chapter Four: Piercing the Veil of Ignorance: Niqab-Wearing Women and the Adjudication of Sexual Assault
  • Chapter Five: In Your Face: Legislative Prohibitions of the Niqab
  • Chapter Six: Niqab-Wearing Women’s Resistance in the Face of Oppressive Governmental Tactics and Popular Beliefs
  • Conclusion: Towards a New Future
  • Notes
  • Index
  • About the Author

Natasha Bakht is a full professor of law at the University of Ottawa and the Shirley Greenberg Chair for Women and the Legal Profession. She has taught courses in family law; criminal law; children and the law; the law and policy of multiculturalism; and women, religion, and law. She was called to the bar of Ontario in 2003 and served as a law clerk to Justice Louise Arbour at the Supreme Court of Canada. Her legal scholarship explores the intersection between religious freedom and women’s equality. She served as the English language editor-in-chief of the Canadian Journal of Women and the Law from 2014 to 2020. Natasha’s legal activism includes involvement with the National Association of Women and the Law and the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF). She was named one of the top fifty people in city by Ottawa Life Magazine (2009), received a Femmy Award by International Women’s Day Ottawa for being a thought leader in the National Capital Region (2017), and received the South Asian Bar Association’s Legal Excellence Award (2019).  

Her research on the niqab analyzes the unwarranted popular panic concerning Muslim women who cover their faces and explores systemic barriers to inclusion perpetuated by Canada’s legal and political system. She has been cited by the Supreme Court of Canada in the case of R v NS, 2012 SCC 72, which involved a niqab-wearing sexual assault complainant. Together with her friend and colleague Lynda Collins, she stretched the legal boundaries of family by becoming legal co-mothers of their son, Elaan, though they are not in a conjugal relationship. She is also an award-winning dancer and choreographer. 

“With her book, Bakht bring readers close to one of the most misunderstood, ‘despised,’ and marginalized groups in our societies. Their answers, at times very candid, their reactions to insults, positive and pragmatic, and their determination to remain attached to their faith, sound very true and very familiar. . . . With In Your Face, Natasha Bakht sheds light on the hypocrisy that many liberal democracies have been hiding behind: a ‘veiled’ veneer of oppression, falsely convincing us that women are free to wear what they want… until they decide to wear a niqab.”
Monia Mazigh, Rabble.ca, 01/07/2021

Videos from the virtual book launch