Montreal

Quebec City Muslims now have a place to bury dead, after years of trying

The Lépine Cloutier/Athos funeral home in Saint-Augustin-de-Desmaures, about 25 kilometres west of downtown Quebec City, is now offering burial grounds for local Muslims. It is the first place to do so outside the Montreal area.

Funeral home near Quebec City offering burial grounds to Muslims, a 1st outside the Montreal area

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

Starting Sunday, Muslims in the Quebec City area won't have travel to Laval or overseas to bury their loved ones.

The Lépine Cloutier/Athos funeral home in Saint-Augustin-de-Desmaures, about 25 kilometres west of downtown Quebec City, is now offering burial grounds for local Muslims.

There will be 500 places reserved for Muslims at the Les Jardins du Québec cemetery, near the St. Lawrence River. The space was inaugurated Sunday morning.

"We want to serve everyone that lives in Quebec City, that's our goal," said Mélijade Rodrigue, who works at the funeral home.

Rodrigue told CBC News their project was in the works before the January shooting at a Quebec City mosque that claimed the lives of six men.

The bodies of five of the six victims had to be returned to their countries of origin. The sixth victim was buried in Laval, which is home to the only Muslim-run cemetery in the province.

"Having a cemetery in the Quebec City region is much more convenient and much more appropriate than going to Montreal, or repatriating bodies to their home countries," said Nadir Belkhiter, spokesperson for Algerian community association of Quebec.

A nearby place to bury family

Rodrigue said they checked with leaders in the Muslim community for specifics, such as their special burial traditions, and adapted one of their funeral homes to be able to perform the necessary rituals.

She said while there are a lot of Muslims settling in Quebec City, some who have been living there for decades and still have nowhere to bury their loved ones.

"If you live here you want to be buried here, obviously," she said.
One of the funeral homes at the cemetery has been adapted so that Muslims can perform customary rituals before burial. (Radio-Canada)

This project is different from one that has been in the works since 2016 in Saint-Apollinaire, which is about 40 kilometres southwest of Quebec City and spearheaded by the Centre culturel islamique de Québec, the mosque which was the site of the shooting. 

The centre has been in discussions with the Harmonia funeral home to buy land to establish a Muslim-run cemetery there. Some of its members are distancing themselves from the Saint-Augustin-de-Desmaures cemetery, which they don't consider a true Muslim burial ground. 

Boufeldja Benabdallah, co-founder of the centre, said the key difference is that while in a non-Muslim cemetery plots are rented, in a Muslim cemetery they are owned forever.

But because the Saint-Apollinaire land — a wooded area on the outskirts of town — has to be rezoned, it is subject to the referendum process.

That referendum is slated to take place next weekend. Only about 62 people, those who live or work a certain distance from the proposed site, are allowed to vote.

Benabdallah said he is "confident in people's judgment" and believes the project will pass.

In an interview with Radio-Canada, he said it would be a "terrible shock" if the openness that was displayed after the January shooting was erased.

With files from CBC's Julia Caron

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