Decision to reject mosque in Ahuntsic not about Islamophobia, voters say

Residents who voted against recognizing the Ahuntsic Cultural Centre as an official place of worship reject any suggestion Islamophobia played a role in their decision.

Shortage of parking among reasons given for voting No in referendum on Ahuntsic Cultural Centre

Residents in Ahuntsic-Cartierville voted against recognizing the Ahuntsic Cultural Centre as an official place of worship. (René Saint-Louis/Radio-Canada)

Residents who voted against recognizing the Ahuntsic Cultural Centre as an official place of worship reject any suggestion Islamophobia played a role in their decision.

Nearly two-thirds of those who cast their ballots voted against the proposal on Sunday. 

The centre is located at 406 Legendre Street West, just north of Highway 40.

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

John Mirano, who voted against, said his main concern was the increase in traffic a prayer site would bring to the neighbourhood. 

They are Canadian, they are Montrealers, and for me, they are welcome.- Pierre Gagnier, borough mayor

"It's bad enough finding parking in summertime here, never mind winter," he told CBC News. 

"It would bring in more traffic around here. That's pretty much it."

Salvatore Valeante, who was also opposed, echoed those concerns.

"I'm not racist," he said.  "It's just that it's too crowded here. Everyone parks in front of my house. They block my garage. It creates a lot of problems."

Of the 481 valid ballots cast, 291 people voted No in the referendum. The voter turnout rate was 43 per cent.

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)

Rachid Hajir, a spokesperson for the centre, said Sunday he accepts the decision, but believes parking isn't the real reason residents voted No.

"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."

Hajir said a new plan is in the works but didn't provide more details.

Borough mayor Pierre Gagnier indicated there were several locations where a new mosque could be opened, including on Chabanel Street and St. Laurent Boulevard.

"They are Canadian, they are Montrealers, and for me, they are welcome," Gagnier said. "They will have a choice of places where they can have their services, their activities and there will be a win-win for everybody."

Several other boroughs have also recently taken steps to block the establishment of new places of worship.

In Outremont, councillors voted last week to move forward with a bylaw that would see new places of worship banned on two main commercial streets.

Last year, a mosque in Saint-Laurent faced eviction because it had been operating primarily as a place of worship where zoning prohibits it.

with files from Steve Rukavina