Montreal

Couillard vows to help Muslims get own cemetery in wake of Saint-Apollinaire vote

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard says the province will act to help Muslims get their own cemetery after the referendum in Saint-Apollinaire, Que., Sunday appeared to have crushed those hopes.

Premier says views of small group of voters don't reflect Quebec society

'I don't think it projects a favourable image of Quebec,' Premier Philippe Couillard says about the Saint-Apollinaire vote that rejected a Muslim-run cemetery. He says a solution will be found. (Radio-Canada)

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard says the province will act to help Muslims get their own cemetery after the referendum in Saint-Apollinaire, Que., Sunday appeared to have crushed those hopes.

"People have rights. It's fundamental to be able to bury your dead," Couillard said in Edmonton on Tuesday, where he was attending the Council of the Federation meeting with other premiers.

Couillard said the government didn't get involved in influencing voters because there were so few it "didn't seem like a good idea."

Only 49 people registered to vote in the referendum, and in the end 36 voted.

The side that wanted to ensure the Muslim-run cemetery was blocked won with 19 votes — three more than the side that wanted to allow it.

Province to step in

The Muslim-run cemetery was slated for a wooded area outside the town, but the land would have needed to be rezoned.

The town's mayor, Bernard Ouellet, said that when he was asked about allowing a Muslim-run cemetery on the outskirts of town he "didn't think it would bother anyone."  

But it did bother some people in the small town of 6,400 people, and they started going door-to-door to collect signatures to force a referendum on the zoning change.

They achieved that goal in April with 40 signatures and they continued to campaign for the No side leading up to the referendum.

Couillard said he was disappointed after seeing Sunday's results, and he believed many other Quebecers were too.

"I don't think it projects a favourable image of Quebec," he said.

"What I see now is that it's definitely a necessity that our government become involved in finding a solution," he said.

Despite the recent development in Saint-Augustin-de-Desmaures, Que., where an existing cemetery started offering burial grounds for Muslims earlier this month, a Muslim-run cemetery would be different.

A Muslim-run cemetery would be able to carry out Muslim traditions without intermingling with traditions from other religions, such as cremation.

Couillard said his government would be sitting down with members of the Muslim community to find a solution with them.

There will be 500 places reserved for Muslims at Les Jardins du Québec cemetery, near the St. Lawrence River in Saint-Augustin-de-Desmaures. (Radio-Canada)

He said he doesn't want people thinking that the small group of people who voted against the cemetery reflect the views of Quebec society as a whole.

"I remember the thousands in the streets to show solidarity with Muslims. That's Quebec. That's the Quebec we want to see and hear," he said.

With files from Radio-Canada

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