A popular mosque in Montreal's Saint-Laurent borough is facing fines of up to $1,000 a day if it refuses to heed an eviction notice.
According to borough authorities, the Al Andalous Islamic Center, which hosts about 1,000 worshippers for Friday prayers at its Décarie Boulevard location, has been operating primarily as a place of worship where zoning prohibits it.
The Association des Sciences Islamiques au Canada, the non-profit organization which manages the mosque, says it first applied for a permit in 2012.
'We warned them that they were not in the right place and had to find another one.' - Alan DeSousa, mayor of Saint-Laurent
In its application, the association said the place of worship was "born of a need in the community, as the presence of Muslims in the borough is growing year by year."
The application was rejected in May 2013, and an eviction notice was served.
'We warned them'
Alan DeSousa, the mayor of the borough, said when officials visited they discovered the building was mostly used for worship, which is contrary to zoning regulations.
"We warned them that they were not in the right place and had to find another one," he said.
Since the mosque's application was rejected in the spring of 2013, there have been several written exchanges between its directors and borough authorities.
These exchanges were concluded last month with the issuance of a final notice asking the mosque to vacate the premises by April 3. If the association that operates it fails to do so, it could be forced to pay up to $1,000 a day in fines.
"We were very permissive and nice to them by giving them time, since 2013, to find another place," said DeSousa.
"We saw that it was not going anywhere."
Searching for new location
The mosque's administrators said they have had trouble finding another location of adequate size where local zoning regulations allow places of worship.
They are planning to challenge the eviction notice.
The Association of Muslims and Arabs for a Secular Quebec is supporting the mosque in its efforts.
Haroun Bouazzi, the group's co-president, said closing the mosque would be a bad idea because it would alienate worshippers and lead to crowding at other mosques.
"We must avoid what happened in France, where there are just no new places of worship," Bouazzi said, adding that people could end up saying their prayers "in the street" if mosques aren't available.
For regulars like Ben Slem, the mosque is more than a place for prayer.
"We had our wedding here, the new immigrants use the place to find people to help them," he said.
He said if the mosque closes, he'll be forced to pray at home.
Mosque administrators have started a petition asking the City of Montreal for a new space, or permission to stay.