Outremont councillor says no exemptions for Purim buses

As the Jewish holiday of Purim approaches, an Outremont borough councillor says a controversial bylaw that bans certain buses from residential streets shouldn't be touched.

B'nai Brith calls for greater understanding from neighbours of Hasidim

B'Nai Brith's lawyer says Outremont is a microcosm within Quebec society because of its Hasidic Jewish community. (Paul Chiasson/CP)

As the Jewish holiday of Purim approaches, an Outremont borough councillor says a controversial bylaw that could dampen celebrations should remain untouched.

The bylaw bans the use of double-axle vehicles on residential streets, which includes the buses used to transport Orthodox Jewish children who go door-to-door in costume for Purim, singing and collecting money for their schools and the poor.

"I’m happy with the status quo, because I think that we’ve reached a compromise to the extent where, if we did loosen up the bylaw, we would create even more tension," said Louis Moffatt, an independent borough councillor.

"And what I need right now is a lasting solution, not to create more tension in the district."

Members of the Hasidic community are upset over the lack of borough council support in granting an exemption to the bylaw for Purim.

An appeal at the Feb. 4 borough council meeting to grant that exemption didn't get any support.

Moffatt told Daybreak this morning that the bylaw, which has been in place since 2003, has been contested in the past.

He said that the Montreal police have been handling Purim well for years by directing traffic and issuing traffic violation tickets in cases where the bylaw was broken.

Hasidic community unhappy with bylaw

Members of the Hasidic Jewish community aren’t pleased with the status quo, though, and neither is B’nai Brith Canada, a Jewish advocacy and human rights organization.

"The irony is, if you remove these 25-seat buses and you put in, let’s say the mothers driving minivans, you’re going to increase the amount of traffic, you’re going to increase the amount of pollution, and frankly, most importantly, you’re going to increase the level of dangerousness for pedestrians and for drivers in general," said B’nai Brith Canada legal advisor Steven Slimovitch.

He said that Outremont is a microcosm in a province where religion is considered as something to be practiced privately and in the home.

"The Canadian model is not like that. The Canadian model is freedom of religion to practice your religion in the way you think it should be practiced, obviously within reason," he told Daybreak.

The buses currently used by Outremont’s Hasidic community for Purim are larger than minibuses but not quite the size of coach buses.

Borough councillor Céline Forget was the subject of a controversy during last year’s Purim after she personally tried to enforce the bylaw.

She declined to be interviewed, instead issuing a brief email that read (in French): "I believe this case is fairly simple: minibuses are permitted on all the streets, but not buses. And it’s like that for everybody."