Tuesday, March 22, 2011
With his ever-present camera ready to document the slightest infraction committed by his orthodox Jewish neighbours, blogger Pierre Lacerte is certainly a nuisance. A court this week described him as “a peculiar personality. He is excessive, meticulous, passionate. He is no picnic.”
But Judge Manon Ouimet of Quebec Court concluded that Mr. Lacerte’s campaign to expose what he calls the “unjustified political influence” of Montreal’s Hasidim was insufficient to justify an order under the Criminal Code that he keep the peace.
“The exercise, however abundant, of the defendant’s right to expression on his blog has a specific aim that does not threaten the personal safety of the plaintiffs,” Judge Ouimet ruled Monday. “It is not to intimidate, threaten or harass them that he is interested in them.”
The case was launched three years ago when Michael Rosenberg, a real-estate developer and prominent member of the Hasidic community in the borough of Outremont, complained to police. He was seeking an order forcing Mr. Lacerte to leave him alone.
Mr. Lacerte lives across the street from a synagogue founded by Mr. Rosenberg’s father. Mr. Rosenberg testified that Mr. Lacerte has harassed him since 2005, taking hundreds of photos of him or his car when it is double-parked in front of the synagogue. He took exception to being mocked and called the “half-billion-dollar man” on Mr. Lacerte’s blog and testified that he felt singled out because of his religion.
“He says that he is the son of a Holocaust survivor,” the judge summarized, “and since [Mr.] Lacerte goes after him gratuitously, he believes he is attacked because he is Jewish.”
He told the court that he considered Mr. Lacerte’s behaviour “excessive and abnormal.” He has stopped attending the synagogue founded by his father to avoid coming into contact with Mr. Lacerte.
Mr. Lacerte maintained that he is “not at all racist” and noted that he is married to a woman of foreign origin. (His wife is from Portugal.) He testified that he had lived peacefully on Outremont’s Hutchison Street for years until noisy renovations began on the synagogue in 2003.
“He is convinced that the city demonstrated unjustified complacency in both the illegal work on the synagogue and the illegal parking because [Mr.] Rosenberg is a rich and powerful man, and the authorities eat from his hand,” Judge Ouimet wrote.
She concluded: “The defendant asserts that he has absolutely nothing against Jews. He criticizes certain behaviour of Outremont’s orthodox Jewish community, and he decided to denounce what he considers to be abuses.”
The ruling comes against a backdrop of uneasy relations between Outremont’s Hasidim, who make up about one-fifth of the borough’s population, and the majority. In 2001, the Hasidim won a court case against Outremont, which had banned them from erecting an eruv, a symbolic string boundary that allows orthodox Jews to perform tasks that would otherwise be off limits on the Sabbath. More recently there have been campaigns against the opening of new synagogues on residential streets.
Mr. Lacerte is representative of a small group of extremely vocal critics, who say they are defending secularism. Typical of his humour, a blogpost jokes that one prominent Hasid will have to protect his car with a shopping bag from a kosher store. In response to Monday’s court ruling, he posted a photo-shopped painting by Rubens depicting Mr. Rosenberg in hell, crying out to a God represented by a shtreimel, the fur hat worn by ultra-orthodox Jews.
To celebrate the one-year anniversary of his blog, in 2008, he wrote: “We have asked questions, turned over stones, uncovered questionable and revolting practices. It’s crazy how many bugs came running out when we shone our flashlights in shadowy corners.”
Mr. Rosenberg said in an interview Tuesday that he is disappointed with the ruling. “He’s a person with hate,” he said of Mr. Lacerte. “He and his few friends are trying to make as much trouble as they can. It’s very upsetting.” He plans to continue with a civil suit accusing Mr. Lacerte of slander.
Mr. Lacerte said in an interview that he has nothing to apologize for. His quarrel is not with Jews, he said, only with the “fundamentalist” Hasidim. “They refuse all contact. They even refuse the bylaws if they do not suit them,” he said. “That is what is disturbing.”
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