Montreal

Ahuntsic-Cartierville votes No in polarizing referendum on local mosque

Two-thirds of voters in the Ahuntsic-Cartierville borough have voted against recognizing the Ahuntsic Cultural Centre as an official place of worship in a referendum Sunday.

'Whatever is behind this is purely and simply Islamophobia,' says Ahuntsic Cultural Centre spokesman

Rachid Hajir, spokesman for the Ahuntsic Cultural Centre, says those opposing their official place of worship designation are 'just afraid of whatever is Muslim.' (CBC)

Two-thirds of voters in the Ahuntsic-Cartierville borough have voted against recognizing the Ahuntsic Cultural Centre as an official place of worship in a referendum Sunday.

The referendum was triggered by residents in the area after the borough initially approved the cultural centre's request for official designation.

"The outcome was negative for us and simply we're going to accept it," said the centre's spokesman Rachid Hajir.

Of the 481 valid ballots cast, 290 people voted No in the referendum (60.5 per cent). Voter turnout rate was 43 per cent.

"The only reason why I'm against it is for the lack of parking," said nearby resident Donato Donato on Saturday
Donato Donato, a nearby resident, says his only issue with the official place of worship designation is the parking issues the centre would cause. (CBC)

He said the borough allowed up to 125 people use the centre at a time — "we don't even have parking there for 30 people."

Hajir, however, believes those opposing the place of worship designation aren't actually worried about parking, which he says isn't a real issue.

"Whatever is behind this is purely and simply Islamophobia," he said. "Some of us have been living in this place for 20 years, 30 years."

The centre has served as a mosque and community space for Muslims in the area for the last three years.

"Sometimes we read Qur'an, we pray," said Rayyan Raselma, one of the children who participates in activities at the centre.

Among other things, Sunday's vote means the people who attend the centre will no longer be allowed to pray there, Hajir said.

Plan B in the works

Though Hajir says it will respect the referendum results and operate as a community centre, "there's always a Plan B."

"We're going to continue to exist and there's other means and other avenues that we can go down to get our right and our voice heard."

Hajir said a new plan is in the works but would not give any more details.

With files from Raffy Boudjikanian

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