Muslim cemetery: the mayor of Saint-Apollinaire throws in the towel

©TC Media – Geoffré Samson

MONTREAL — The mayor of Saint-Apollinaire is not planning to use the new law adopted in June to the national Assembly to postpone the referendum, but city rejected on Sunday the project of a muslim cemetery in this small town in the south-west of Lévis.

Mayor Bernard Ouellet argued on Monday that the citizens have already suffered from the ongoing pressure of the two camps for months and they have had enough of this whole discussion: he does not feel ready to revive this episode to his fellow citizens.

Under the provisions of the previous act, 49 riparian potential of a cemetery exclusively muslim in this town of 6000 inhabitants were called Sunday to vote in a referendum: the 16 voted for the project, but 19 voted against it. Opponents of the project argued that the muslims should rather get reserved sections in the cemeteries of multi-faith existing in the region.

The law allowed up here to the citizens to demand a referendum on the municipal issues of urban planning or land use, when a sufficient number of residents requested it by signing a register. The liberal government of Philippe Couillard has made to adopt in June the project of law 122, which grants more powers to elected municipal officials — and that will include the municipalities to be exempt from the requirement to hold such referendums if they have a “policy of public participation”. In this future framework of the “policy of public participation”, however, is not yet known.

Questioned on the possible impact of the referendum on the picture of the Québec elsewhere in the country, the minister in charge of Relations with canadian and the government house leader Jean-Marc Fournier, said it was “definitely say that it affects our relationships between Quebecois”.

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“It should not generalize to the outside how this might be interpreted. One may ask the question between us. Is it espèrerait that people could get to the end of their life which corresponds to their aspirations? (…) On the substance of the matter, I fervently hope that there will be a solution very, very soon. We can’t leave it in abeyance,” said the minister, in the margins of the meeting of the Council of the federation in Edmonton.

Mohamed Kesri, secretary of the islamic cultural Centre of Quebec and the main promoter of the project of Saint-Apollinaire, said wish last week that the city council does not take account of the results if they were negative. Leaders of the muslim community of Quebec now want to ask elected officials to invoke the provisions of the new law adopted on 15 June and bring the project to the city council.

A spokesman for the ministry of municipal Affairs, Pierre-Luc Lévesque, has confirmed that the city council could revive the project without the need to this time go through a referendum — as long as it adopts a “policy of public participation”. By contrast, the framework of this policy has not yet been defined by Quebec.

“I don’t want to have the air of being against the consultations, because, when we want to change the system of referendum, this is not to remove the consultation, it is to give other formats of consultation. Hope that this will be the formats that will be well suited,” said minister Jean-Marc Fournier.

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“Regrettable,” said Labeaume

During the funeral ceremony in the aftermath of the bombing of the mosque of Sainte-Foy in January, the mayor of Québec, Régis Labeaume, had promised the muslims of the capital “that they would have their cemetery” — the victims of this attack had to be buried in Montreal or abroad.

A staunch supporter of the project of law 122, which grants more powers to elected municipal officials, Mr. Labeaume has “regretted” Monday, the result of Saint-Apollinaire, without wanting to blame the opponents — it was rather against the referendum process provided for by the old law.

“Forty-nine persons who had the right of life or death on a project that has a sociological impact is significant in Quebec: just there, it’s pretty amazing”, he estimated. “I have not the taste to blame anyone who voted there. Then, it is regrettable, but I remember — I remember! — that muslims who want to be buried in Quebec city can be at St. Augustine: there are 500 lots for them.”

A part of the cemetery multifaith Les Jardins Quebec, Saint-Augustin-de-Desmaures, about thirty kilometres west of Quebec city, has been given recently to the muslims.

Cardinal Gérald Cyprien Lacroix, archbishop of Quebec, has also expressed its disappointment Monday morning on Twitter. “Like many others, disappointed with the outcome of the referendum in Saint-Apollinaire. It seems to me that it is perfectly legitimate for our muslim brothers and sisters can find a place of their own to bury their deceased in our great region of Quebec.”

The lawyer Julius Grey, constitutionalist and staunch defender of human rights, believes that the muslim community of Quebec could require the city council that he will ignore the outcome of the referendum, which would force can-be opponents to initiate proceedings before the courts. Mr. Grey, who is not involved in this record, believes that the result of the referendum violates the right to freedom of religion, guaranteed by the canadian Charter of rights and freedoms. He recalled the risks, in a democracy, of a “tyranny of the majority”.

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“It is not a referendum on basic individual rights: the Charter exists precisely to protect minorities from the majority,” he argued in a telephone interview.