Ban on new places of wor­ship up­held in Outremont

The Canadian Jewish News (Montreal) - - News - JAN­ICE ARNOLD jarnold@thecjn.ca

Outremont’s con­tro­ver­sial by­law pro­hibit­ing new places of wor­ship on one of its ma­jor com­mer­cial ar­ter­ies, Bernard Av­enue, is now in ef­fect fol­low­ing a Nov. 20 ref­er­en­dum.

The bor­ough an­nounced within three hours of the polls’ clos­ing at 8 p.m. that the Yes side had car­ried the day with 1,561 votes, ver­sus 1,202 for the No side. Ten bal­lots were re­jected.

There were 4,452 el­i­gi­ble vot­ers, mean­ing the turnout was 60.2 per cent.

The chas­sidic com­mu­nity had vowed to come out in full force to de­feat the by­law, say­ing it felt tar­geted by the mea­sure and that it af­fects them more than any other re­li­gious group.

How­ever, those in favour of the by­law also mo­bi­lized and con­ducted an ac­tive cam­paign, com­plete with fly­ers and door-knock­ing.

The coun­cil’s ra­tio­nale for the by­law is that re­strict­ing places of wor­ship will re­vi­tal­ize eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity, which has been suf­fer­ing. The Chas­sidim say no in­de­pen­dent study was car­ried out to sup­port that as­sump­tion.

The by­law ap­plies to all re­li­gions, but chas­sidic lead­ers say their com­mu­nity, com­posed of var­i­ous sects, is the only grow­ing re­li­gious group in the area.

Ac­cord­ing to 2011 sta­tis­tics, 19 per cent of Outremont’s pop­u­la­tion of 24,000 is Jewish, and anec­do­tally that pro­por­tion would ap­pear to have in­creased in the past five years.

The by­law was in­tro­duced last De­cem­ber and ap­proved by all of the coun­cil, ex­cept Mindy Pol­lak, who is a mem­ber of the chas­sidic com­mu­nity.

In the sum­mer of 2015, the coun­cil is­sued a per­mit for the con­struc­tion of a new chas­sidic syn­a­gogue on Bernard, which would be the se­cond on that street, known for its fine ar­chi­tec­ture, shops and restau­rants.

Pol­lak posted her re­gret over the ref­er­en­dum re­sults on Face­book. She be­lieves the ban “di­rectly vi­o­lates the rights and free­doms” of re­li­gion and will “ex­ac­er­bate so­cial ten­sions… Other so­lu­tions could be more ef­fec­tive and should have been ex­plored.”

Pol­lak, a mem­ber of Pro­jet Mon­tréal, the op­po­si­tion party at Mon­treal city hall, also crit­i­cized the “si­lence” of Mayor De­nis Coderre on this is­sue.

After the by­law’s first adop­tion, some chas­sidic lead­ers hired prom­i­nent civil rights lawyer Julius Grey, who sent a let­ter to coun­cil warn­ing that if the by­law was im­ple­mented, his clients would go to court to fight it as un­con­sti­tu­tional. The com­plainants charge that the by­law is dis­crim­i­na­tory.

The by­law also placed a mora­to­rium on ad­di­tional places of wor­ship on an­other ma­jor com­mer­cial artery, Lau­rier Av­enue. That went into ef­fect in Septem­ber after only a hand­ful of peo­ple – far short of the min­i­mum – signed a registry re­quest­ing a ref­er­en­dum. The Chas­sidim were less con­cerned with that street be­cause, un­like Bernard, it does not pass through the heart of their neigh­bour­hood.

A ban on more places of wor­ship on a third com­mer­cial artery, Van Horne Av­enue, has been in force since 1999.

The coun­cil has pro­posed that new places of wor­ship be re­stricted to a zone in the north­east cor­ner of the bor­ough, but the Chas­sidim say that is not ac­cept­able be­cause it is too far from where most of them live and may be un­safe be­cause it bor­ders a rail­way line.

Pol­lak said that with the pas­sage of the by­law, ef­fec­tively no new syn­a­gogues will be able to open in Outremont, be­cause al­most all other ar­eas are zoned for res­i­den­tial use only. Nowhere else in Canada are syn­a­gogues banned, she added.

The Cen­tre for Is­rael and Jewish Af­fairs tweeted: “Very dis­ap­pointed by the re­sults of the Outremont ref­er­en­dum on places of wor­ship. Of­fi­cials need to find a bet­ter so­lu­tion.”

De­spite her dis­ap­point­ment, Pol­lak tweeted: “Was won­der­ful to see the sup­port of dozens of non-chas­sidic neighbours self­lessly volunteering for the No side. Merci beau­coup!”

Daniel Ma­jor, who led the Yes cam­paign, said his con­cern was solely with help­ing busi­nesses flour­ish on Bernard and pre­serv­ing its char­ac­ter. He noted that there are other zon­ing re­stric­tions on the street, such as on bars and ser­vice sta­tions.

On its Face­book page, Les res­i­dents d’outremont pour une av­enue Bernard com­mer­ciale con­grat­u­lated the No side for a “hard-fought cam­paign. What an in­cred­i­ble vic­tory for democ­racy – as a city, as a com­mu­nity, we should be proud.”

Both the No and Yes sides ac­tively cam­paigned in the lead-up to the Outremont ref­er­en­dum.

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