Que­bec town nar­rowly votes against Mus­lim ceme­tery

Toronto Star - - NEWS - KENYON WAL­LACE STAFF RE­PORTER

Mus­lims in the Que­bec City area are fac­ing dis­ap­point­ment and un­cer­tainty af­ter vot­ers in a small town close to the pro­vin­cial cap­i­tal voted Sun­day night to stop the de­vel­op­ment of a ceme­tery ca­ter­ing to the Is­lamic faith.

In a closely watched ref­er­en­dum Sun­day night, just 36 res­i­dents of St-Apol­li­naire, a town of around 6,000 south­west of Que­bec City, voted 19-16 to over­turn zon­ing changes made ear­lier this year al­low­ing the ceme­tery. One bal­lot was re­jected.

“It’s very dis­ap­point­ing,” Mo­hamed Labidi, pres­i­dent of the Cen­tre Cul­turel Is­lamique de Québec, told the Star Sun­day night. “We feel ig­nored . . . the ac­tion in St-Apol­li­naire is against liv­ing to­gether.”

The cen­tre was the driv­ing force be­hind the pur­chase of a plot of land be­side an ex­ist­ing ceme­tery in StApol­li­naire ear­lier this year that mem­bers hoped would be­come their own. Now Labidi says he will be meet­ing with his ad­min­is­tra­tion to come up with another plan.

The re­sult will have ram­i­fi­ca­tions not just for Mus­lims in the Que­bec City area, but across the prov­ince, given that there is only one Mus­lim­run ceme­tery in Que­bec. Searches for other suit­able land will likely be needed, Labidi says.

The project’s ge­n­e­sis goes back to 2016 when Syl­vain Roy, the di­rec­tor of the non-de­nom­i­na­tional Harmonia fu­neral home in St-Apol­li­naire, heard from a Mus­lim fam­ily who couldn’t find a lo­cal ceme­tery where they could bury a loved one in ac­cor­dance with the Is­lamic faith.

The lack of op­tions for Mus­lims in the prov­ince be­came more widely known fol­low­ing a shoot­ing ram­page in Jan­uary 2017 at a Que­bec City mosque. The in­ci­dent, which took place dur­ing evening prayers on Jan. 29, left six men dead and 19 oth­ers in­jured. One of the dead was buried in Laval, where the only Mus­lim-run ceme­tery in Que­bec is lo­cated. The bod­ies of the other five were repa­tri­ated to their coun­tries of ori­gin.

In Fe­bru­ary, Harmonia fu­neral home agreed to sell a par­cel of land to the Cen­tre cul­turel is­lamique de Québec in St-Apol­li­naire, a deal that was unan­i­mously ap­proved by coun­cil when it voted for zon­ing changes that would al­low for the Mus­lim-run ceme­tery.

The deal was put on hold thanks to a rule that al­lows res­i­dents whose prop­er­ties could be af­fected by the zon­ing change to vote on coun­cil’s de­ci­sion. Forty-nine res­i­dents reg­is­tered to vote in early July, but only 36 cast their bal­lots Sun­day.

Roy, of the Harmonia fu­neral home, told the Star the re­sult is “not a good mes­sage to the Mus­lims of Que­bec.”

“It’s quite dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand what’s hap­pened there. What we want to present is a sym­bol of har­mony — just two ceme­ter­ies side by side,” he said. “It’s a sym­bol of what our coun­try wants to say to the world but now we’ve re­ceived a no.”

St-Apol­li­naire Mayor Bernard Ouel­let said he was dis­ap­pointed by the re­sult.

“My com­mu­nity in gen­eral, I think that above all, what led their choice was re­ally fear and dis­in­for­ma­tion,” he said. “I’m con­vinced of it.”

Op­po­nents of the project said Mus­lims should be buried in Is­lamic sec­tions of ex­ist­ing ceme­ter­ies.

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