Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Outremont moves ahead with controversial ban on places of worship 

The borough council in Montreal's Outremont neighbourhood is moving ahead with a controversial bylaw that bans the establishment of new places of worship on two main thoroughfares.

The bylaw bans new places of worship on Bernard and Laurier avenues, two of the borough's key business arteries.

Monday night's motion was a vote to drop a proposed amendment to the bylaw, which the borough first passed in December. 

The amendment would have designated a section near the railway tracks for new places of worship, but councillors later realized the change would have disrupted existing property lines.

Only one councillor, Mindy Pollak, the first Hasidic woman to ever hold elected office in Montreal, voted against the motion Monday night.

Outremont is home to a large Hasidic community, which represents around 25 per cent of borough's population. 

Hasidic leaders say they worry the ban will effectively outlaw the building of new synagogues in the borough.

A ban already exists on the establishment of new places of worship on residential streets in Outremont and on Van Horne, another commercial street running through the boro

Only two synagogues have been established in the last 20 years, and the growing Hasidic community doesn't know where to build next.

"It's very painful for us," said Abraham Ekstein, a Hasidic community leader. 

"We don't want this fight, we didn't start this fight and all it would have taken was for municipal authorities to just sit down with us rather than saying 'this is democracy' and ramming this proposal down our throats."

Ekstein wouldn't say if the community is considering legal action.

"What we're talking about is a complete and outright ban in Outremont," Hasidic blogger Cheskie Weiss told CBC Montreal earlier on Monday.

Weiss said many in the Hasidic community feel unfairly targeted.

Outremont Mayor Marie Cinq-Mars said another section of the borough might be opened up for religious zoning after a consultant has weighed in.

Outremont council voted overwhelmingly in favour of the proposed bylaw in December, but delayed its implementation pending further consultations.

At that time, Hasidic community members Jacob Karmel and Alex Werzberger turned to the law firm Grey Casgrain, which issued a letter warning the borough of possible legal action if the vote was not postponed in order to conduct further study.

The borough said the proposed bylaw was necessary to create  "winning conditions" to promote business on Laurier and Bernard.

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