Montreal, Canada – A bylaw that would prevent the construction of any new synagogues in a heavily Chasidic neighborhood in Montreal has been upheld, leaving members of the area’s Jewish community reeling.
A referendum held on Sunday had residents in the Montreal borough of Outremont voting on a proposal that would overturn a ban on the construction of new houses of worship on Bernard Avenue, reported Canada’s CBC News.
Outremont laws prohibit the construction of houses of worship on any residential streets as well as on the neighborhood’s two other main streets, Laurier Avenue and Van Horne Avenue.
That left just one commercial street, Bernard Avenue, as the only option for new synagogues to accommodate the growing Chasidic community.
The ban was proposed last December, just months after a request to construct a new synagogue on Bernard Avenue had been approved.
Borough officials claimed that the ban was necessary to revitalize business in the area, but Outremont’s growing Chasidic population, which currently represents approximately 20 percent of the community’s residents, felt that they were being unfairly targeted.
An online petition opposing the ban garnered 1,643 signatures and noted that Outremont’s mayor Marie Cinq-Mars admitted that no studies had been conducted to support the idea that banning houses of worship would revitalize Outremont’s commercial district.
The petition also categorized the ban as “insensitive and arbitrary” and in direct violation of Canada’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.
Adding insult to injury, an Outremont borough council meeting held to decide the date of the referendum was held on Rosh Hashana, ensuring that no members of the Jewish community could be present.
While meetings of the borough council always take place on the first Monday of the month, Chasidic borough councilor Mindy Pollak said that meetings have been rescheduled in the past.
Ms. Pollak’s request to move the meeting to another date so that Jewish citizens could participate was not granted.
Ms. Pollak blasted the ban, saying it was a no win situation for Outremont residents.
“They gave citizens an impossible choice, between supposedly supporting small business and houses of worship,” Ms. Pollak told VIN News. “There was a way at the beginning to avoid this, solutions the borough could have applied instead of having an out and out ban against houses of worship.”
Posturing the referendum as an effort to boost local business was nothing more than a smokescreen, noted Ms. Pollak.
“They are pretending that this was a good way to revitalize small business, but spending $100,000 on an expensive referendum is not one of them,” observed Ms. Pollak.
Ms. Pollak said that members of Outremont’s Chasidic community have already been discussing a potential lawsuit in the wake of yesterday’s vote, with the ban passing by a margin of 1,561 to 1,202.
Ms. Pollak also slammed the ban on her Facebook page saying that mayor has succeeded only in increasing social tensions in the Outremont, while opening up citizens to costly legal actions.
“It is the Montreal taxpayers who will assume the legal fees to defend this irresponsible decision from the mayor of Outremont,” charged Ms. Pollak.
Disappointment in the ban was evident on social media.
“Very disappointed by the results of the #Outremont referendum on places of worship,” tweeted Canada’s Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. “Officials need to find a better solution.”
Conflicts involving the borough’s Chasidic community have become more common in Outremont in recent years.
News that a local YMCA had installed frosted windows to blur the view of women in exercise gear made waves in local media and Jewish institutions including an eruv and sukkahs have also been the subject of heated debate.