The case for the banning of the burqa in Australia is primarily about the difficulty, or even impossibility, of knowing who's behind the veil, and the case against the banning of burqa is that this is not a problem. Certainly it has been a problem for police and one Carnita Matthews, who has just been acquitted on appeal of a charge of making a false complaint against a police officer. Her defence in the local court, where she was convicted, and her appeal to the higher court, where she was acquitted, has been based on the argument that the police could not prove it was she who made the complaint because the complainant was wearing a burqa and police could see only two eyes. The difficulty in identification has been a problem for Mrs Matthews because if it was not her behind the burqa she would not have been charged, and it has been a problem for police because if it had been Mrs Matthews behind the burqa the case may not have proceeded to appeal.
It started as a random breath test and a booking for not properly displaying P plates. Carnita Matthews was asked by the police officer to lift her veil so he could verify her licence and she did so grudgingly. She also abused the police officer for 20 minutes, accusing him and all police of racism. We know this because the encounter was filmed by a police camera. However, three days after the booking a woman in a burqa handed over an affidavit purportedly signed by Carnita Matthews and with detailed knowledge of the incident alleging that the police officer had tried to rip off her veil. Later, it became known that the video shows this did not happen.
I believe this disturbing case has highlighted a chink that sooner or later will expose Australians in a more serious matter. Surely police and others in at least government-backed roles should have a clear right to require the removal for identification of any veil obscuring a person's face. Police may have that right now, but it is a right that needs to be clarified and extended to others. I don't believe Australia should tolerate the medieval subjugation that is the burqa, but the case I'm presenting now is for identification. The right to identification, if it comes later to be necessary, is surely held by businesses, too.
Clarifying and extending the right to demand that a burqa's veil be lifted to allow identification will not be sufficient if the penalty is an on-the-spot fine, because such a booking would not stick if the police have not seen the person's face. And I think it very likely that the booking would be challenged on that basis. Police should be required to arrest and detain a person who refuses to lift a veil until that person can be put before a court.
Do you believe that the case of Carnita Matthews and the affidavit has exposed our vulnerability to the burqa?