Canada’s spy agency faces $35 million harassment, discrimination lawsuit
SAINT-APOLLINAIRE, Que. — After six Muslim men were shot dead inside a Quebec City mosque last January, relations between Muslims and the rest of the community were excellent, said Mohamed Kesri — and then the cemetery issue came up.
Plans are underway to open the first Quebec City-area cemetery owned and operated by Muslims, but a handful of people oppose the project and triggered a referendum, which takes place Sunday.
“There are Catholic cemeteries, Protestant cemeteries, Jewish cemeteries — we aren’t inventing anything here,” said Kesri, the man mandated by the Quebec City mosque to lead the project. “We want to be like everybody else.”
The proposed burial site is located in Saint-Apollinaire, a town of 6,000 about 35 kilometres southwest of Quebec City.
Due to a Quebec law permitting referendums on zoning matters, 49 people who live and work around the proposed site will decide whether the thousands of Muslims in the Quebec City area get their own cemetery.
“If I had asked for an ordinary cemetery, it probably wouldn’t have bothered people,” said SaintApollinaire Mayor Bernard Ouellet. “I think the fear has started because of the word, ’Muslim.’”
If Sunday’s referendum fails, Ouellet said, “I don’t have a Plan B. On our level, we would have done the maximum effort.” Kesri isn’t nearly as resigned. Quebec adopted a law in June allowing municipalities to forgo referendums on land projects in order to give more power to local authorities.
Kesri said Quebec City’s Muslim community will pressure politicians to have the new legislation applied — if need be.
“It’s clear to us we won’t abandon the project,” said Kesri. “They have the power to not do a referendum, so if we can have the law applied, then why not do it?”
Quebec City’s Muslims have been looking for a cemetery for two decades, but made a renewed push after they completed the payment for the city’s main mosque, in 2011, Kesri said.
It was there last January that a gunman shot dead six men in the main prayer hall and injured 19 others. The bodies were sent overseas and to Montreal for burial.
“Since the events of Jan. 29, there was an extraordinary sense of community,” Kesri said.
“There were meetings after meetings. We were all incredibly surprised. We thought it would continue. And then this small minority risks destroying a project that belongs to thousands of Muslims.”
The land for the proposed cemetery is behind a non-denominational funeral parlour called Harmonia, located along Saint-Apollinaire’s industrial park.
Few people live around the area, which explains why only 49 people get to vote Sunday.
Sylvain Roy, Harmonia’s director, said his company offered to sell part of the land to Quebec City’s mosque for $215,000.
The plan is to have two cemeteries — one non-sectarian and another Muslim — side by side, he said.
“We had about 10-12 people come see us after we made the announcement,” Roy said. “There is a small but ferocious opposition to this project.”
HALIFAX — Five Halifax venues have responded to Tragically Hip rocker Gord Downie’s call on corporate Canada to do more to promote dialogue and reconciliation with Aboriginal people.
The Legacy Room initiative, part of the Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund, announced new locations Friday including a Halifax private school, a university, an accounting outlet, a restaurant and a development firm.
Charlene Bearhead, co-chairwoman of the fund, said the spaces will encourage conversations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people and raise awareness of the legacy of residential schools.
“Being angry or shamed, shaming white people or re-traumatizing Indigenous people, it doesn’t serve us collectively,” she said during an interview.
“These spaces are about building relationships and encouraging learning and awareness.”
The five Halifax locations, the Armbrae Academy, the Barrington Steak House and Oyster Bar, the library at Dalhousie University, Deloitte Atlantic Canada and the Waterfront Development Corp., join three legacy rooms established in Ontario and aboard the Canada C3 ship travelling from Toronto to Victoria, bringing the total to nine rooms across the country.
The host of each Legacy Room has committed to an annual donation of $5,000 over five years, which will go towards grassroots reconciliation programs to support healing and recovery.
The fund honours 12-year-old Chanie Wenjack, who died in 1966 after running away from a residential school near Kenora, Ont.
The Canadian government launched the residential school system in the 19th century. Over decades, about 150,000 Indigenous children were removed from their homes and sent to religious boarding schools.
Away from their families and native culture, many students lived in horrific conditions and endured severe abuse. The impact of residential schools continues to be felt today.
Halifax MP Andy Fillmore said the idea of reconciliation in Canada is a way for citizens to realize reconciliation can be part of their daily lives.
“The power of the legacy rooms is that they bring reconciliation home right to the middle of our community, at a steak house or at the library, and make reconciliation part of peoples lives on a day-to-day basis,” he said.
“It gives them a handle to grab onto and a lever to make change.”
The Legacy Room idea is the brainchild of Assembly of First Nations regional Chief Morley Googoo, who represents Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.
OTTAWA — Canada’s spy agency is being sued by five employees who are looking for upwards of $35 million in damages over allegations of years of harassment and discrimination based on their religion, race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation. A statement of claim filed in Federal Court alleges that harassment, bullying and “abuse of authority” is rife within the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and that managers condone such behaviour. The allegations are based on the experiences of five employees, none of whom can be legally identified within the document. They allege that the harassment they have faced over years has caused them embarrassment, depression, anxiety and loss of income. They also allege that their complaints were ignored or dismissed by senior managers, some of whom suggested they should keep quiet out of fear of reprisal. Postmedia Wire Services
Mohamed Kesri during an interview at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Quebec Wednesday in Quebec City. Plans are underway to open the first cemetery in the Quebec City area owned and operated by Muslims, but a handful of people oppose the project and triggered a referendum, which takes place Sunday.