The news of Sunday night's vote opposing the creation of a Muslim cemetery in Saint-Apollinaire has been met with disbelief and dismay in the Muslim community, says a well-known Quebec imam.
"People are demoralized. Outraged. They're outraged at how come only 19 people can decide the fate of thousands of people," Hassan Guillet told CBC News on Monday morning.
Guillet said it's important to recognize the decision was not a rejection of the Muslim community in Quebec, but rather the rejection of the creation of a cemetery by the people who live adjacent to the proposed project.
Still, he expressed his personal disappointment, saying he believed the area was well situated for a burial ground.
"I was very sad. Surprised and especially very sad and upset."
Guillet caught the world's attention with his address at the funeral for three of the victims of the Quebec City mosque shooting last January.
Only residents who lived adjacent to the proposed site were allowed to cast ballots. The vote was 19-16 against the cemetery, with one spoiled ballot. A total of 49 residents were entitled to vote in the referendum.
Quebec Muslims currently bury people in a cemetery in Laval. After the mosque shooting, Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume vowed to create a burial ground for Muslims.
On Monday, Labeaume called the vote against the cemetery "sad."
"You had 49 people that had the right to decide on a subject, on a project that has consequences all over the province," he said.
"In terms of governance, that's quite special."
'What are they afraid of?'
Mohamed Labidi, president of the Quebec City mosque that was the scene of the shooting, said the referendum's result shocked its members.
He said the community had been working to establish a Muslim cemetery for nearly 20 years, and "every time, we run into all kinds of problems."
Labidi said he feels it's clear the referendum in Saint-Apollinaire was used as a way to reject the Muslim community.
"We never thought people could oppose the installation of a cemetery," he said on Gravel le matin, Radio-Canada's Montreal morning radio show.
"What are they afraid of?"
Saint-Apollinaire Mayor Bernard Ouellet admitted some of the opposition was founded in fear. For many of the residents, they're only exposed to negative depictions of Islam in the media, he said.
"When you lack information, fear predominates," Ouellet also said on the radio show. "In the worst of cases, they were talking about being invaded or losing their roots as Quebecers."
But Labidi said Muslims wouldn't be visiting the town that often. All they want is to bury those who've died, he said.
Ouellet said he was disappointed by the vote's result, but satisfied with the process, despite the fact only 49 people could cast ballots under the current zoning laws.
"I think we'll have to take a look at that," he said of the decades-old legislation created when Quebec's population was a lot less diverse.
"I think it would have been interesting if the whole population could have voted, for sure."
Drainville, politicians respond
Bernard Drainville, the former Parti Québécois politician who drafted the party's controversial Charter of Values, voiced his support for the Muslim cemetery, tweeting in French that the referendum result was a blow to inclusivity in the province.
"We tell Muslim Quebecers 'it's your Quebec.' Then they ask for some land for their dead and it's no? Disappointed. Very," he wrote.
NDP leadership candidate Guy Caron also took to Twitter to express disappointment with the referendum result.
"With respect, trust and dialogue, our society will be stronger."
Very disappointed by the results. We must do better. With respect, trust and dialogue, our society will be stronger. https://t.co/qMrGArobMG— @GuyCaronNPD