Quebec town moving forward with Muslim cemetery referendum plans

Opponents wanted the town to reject a zoning application that would allow the cemetery to be created and nix the idea of holding a referendum, but councillors ignored their requests.

Saint-Apollinaire mayor says town wants those on both sides of plan to have a chance to express their opinion

Lysanne Lacroix was one of about 20 Saint-Apollinaire residents who attended a town council meeting last night to voice their opposition to a plan to create a Muslim-only cemetery. (Catou MacKinnon/CBC)

The mayor of Saint-Apollinaire and his councillors are pushing ahead in the process to create a Muslim cemetery in the town.

Mayor Bernard Ouellet said they want to make sure the process is as democratic as possible, and so the town plans to hold a referendum over a zoning change that would allow the cemetery to open.

"We think we need to give those for and against an equal chance to express themselves," he told CBC after Monday's council meeting.

Ouellet is in favour of the initiative, but there is a faction of residents in the town, about 35 kilometres southwest of Quebec City, who are not.

About 20 opponents attended the meeting last night and suggested the council immediately reject the zoning application because, they say, Muslim people have other options elsewhere.
Saint-Apollinaire Mayor Bernard Ouellet says it's important for democracy and the town's reputation to have residents vote on the issue of creating a Muslim cemetery. (Marc-Antoine Lavoie/Radio-Canada)

They also asked the town to nix the idea of holding a referendum, even though it was opponents to the plan who wanted a referendum in the first place. They now say not holding a vote will save the town money.

But councillors ignored their requests and are going ahead with the next step to put the zoning change to a vote, which is the public register to be held sometime next week.

'Open and welcoming'

Quebec City's Muslim community has been in discussions with the Harmonia funeral home in Saint-Apollinaire to buy land to establish their own cemetery since September 2016.

The issue took on new urgency when the families of the men gunned down in January's deadly shooting at a Quebec City mosque had nowhere nearby to bury their dead according to the rituals of the Islamic faith.
Mourners pray at a funeral service for three of the six victims of the Quebec City mosque shooting at the Quebec City convention centre in February. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

There are no dedicated burial grounds for Muslims anywhere outside the greater Montreal region.

The bodies of five of the six men killed in the attack were returned to their countries of origin, while one was buried in Laval.

The cemetery in Saint-Apollinaire would be created in a wooded area on the outskirts of town.

At the meeting, Claude Baron, who lives across the highway from where the cemetery would be, said he doesn't understand why the town is pushing so hard for the project.

Ouellet said he wants the cemetery to be built because it would show the community is "open and welcoming."

Public register, then referendum

Only those who live or work a certain distance from the proposed site can vote in a referendum, if the town garners enough support to hold one.
The land where the cemetery would be created is behind the Harmonia funeral home in Saint-Apollinaire.

For the referendum to go ahead, about 18 people must sign a register at town hall which will be open for one day between May 8 and 10. The exact date will be announced later this week.

If enough people register, the referendum, in which about 70 people can vote, will take place July 16.

Ouellet has said he believes the project has wide support.

With files from Catou MacKinnon