The borough of Outremont has overwhelmingly adopted a controversial bylaw banning new places of worship on Bernard and Laurier avenues.

Late Monday night, four out of five councillors voted in favour of the motion, despite calls from members of the Hasidic community to postpone the vote to allow time for demographic studies to look at the issue. 

About 60 people filled the council chamber as the bylaw was passed.

Legal action

A lawyer's letter, which was sent to the borough last Friday, threatened legal action if the proposed bylaw was adopted. 

"We are advising you that if the bylaw is adopted as is, it will be contested immediately before the courts," the letter from the office of constitutional lawyer Julius Grey said.

According to the letter, two Outremont residents turned to the law firm Grey Casgrain to warn the borough of possible legal action if the vote was not postponed in order to conduct further study.

Consultation wanted

Jacob Karmel and Alex Werzberger said they had consulted many members of the Hasidic community since the proposed bylaw was announced, and would have liked for a study to be conducted before the motion went to a vote.

"The proposed changes do not at all take into account the needs of the community...Beyond that, they are not based on any demographic studies," the letter states.

"Our proposition is to suspend the study of this bylaw and to proceed to a demographic urban study, as well as an accessibility study, to determine the real needs of the citizens. This study should be done with the participation of the religious communities living in Outremont."

Constitutional lawyer Julius Grey said more studies are required.

"One group is not different from another. You just have to look at the expanding needs of an expanding community," Grey said.

The letter stated that "Outremont's Jewish community is growing faster than other communities, and also attends synagogue at a high rate. It's clear that this bylaw directly targets members of this community, not to satisfy their needs but to threaten them."

It went on to add that keeping synagogues away from those two major arteries would mean most Jewish residents would have to walk 20 or 30 minutes to reach the closest place of worship.

"You are not unaware that observant Jews cannot use their car on Saturdays," it reads.

City aims to create 'winning conditions'

The borough held a public consultation on the issue last week. It said the proposed bylaw to ban new places of worship on busy streets is necessary to create  "winning conditions to promote the use of three commercial arteries: Laurier, Bernard and Van Horne avenues."

A working document written up by borough officials stated that they believe it's an "absolute necessity" to do all they can to support businesses in the area.

Only one borough councillor, Hasidic politician Mindy Pollak, voted against the proposed change at the extraordinary council meeting called in mid-November for the bylaw's first reading. She also voted against the ban at Monday's meeting. 

Not everyone was against the proposed bylaw. By Monday night, an online petition in favour of the borough's motion to ban new places of worship had garnered nearly 900 signatures.