Montreal Suburb Zoning Change Has Fast-Growing Hasidic Community Outraged
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
The heavily haredi borough of Outremont, Montreal, Quebec is voting tonight on a proposed zoning change that seeks in part to ban all new religious buildings – yeshivas, for example – from its two main shopping streets, Laurier and Bernard avenues.
If the zoning change passes, all new religious usage or construction would have to be in a much less desirable part of the borough near railway tracks, the National Post reported.
Outremont’s hasidic community is outraged.
“They shouldn’t try to portray this as economic revitalization for [the main shopping streets of Outremont],” hasidic community activist Mayer Feig told the National Post, adding that he feels the proposed zoning change “absolutely” is meant to target hasidim. “We’re being pushed into a corner.‘Here, stay in the corner.’ That’s exactly how we feel,” Feig said.
The zoning change backers insist all they want to do is revitalize Outremont’s shopping district, which has seen a decline as big box retailers located elsewhere have siphoned off customers. More synagogues, churches or religious schools opening on those main shopping streets will only further suppress business traffic and make the streets less of a shopping destination.
“It’s not against a community. It’s a bylaw aimed at all the communities,” she said. “It’s important to inject some energy into our commercial streets, and places of worship are not the solution,” Outremont councillor Jacqueline Gremaud reportedly said at meeting last month.
Feig says that claim is disingenuous.
“There is not a single Muslim place of worship, as far as I know, and the churches are close to empty and haven’t asked for anything [i.e., land for new construction] in the last 20 years. All our current synagogues are close to maximum capacity,” Feig insisted.
Last week, a public session on the proposed zoning change became heated when hasidim complained of discrimination while French-speaking residents at the meeting complained that the hasidim spoke in English, not French.
Feig insisted a small but vocal minority of locals were behind what he sees as the persecution of the hasidic community.
“The charge is being led by the same people who complain about our buses, about our sukkahs and about our eruvs,” Feig said.
Mindy Pollak, a young hasidic woman who is an elected Outremont borough councillor, was the only council member to vote against the zoning change at its first reading last month. Pollak accused the borough of “ghettoizing” places of worship.
Non-hasidic residents complain hasidim are disrespectful toward their non-hasidic neighbors, blocking their access to parking, idling poorly cared for school buses for long periods of time in front of neighbors’ homes, and of being messy. There are also frequent noise complaints.
More than 20% of Outremont’s population is hasidic.