Mosque in Saint-Léonard can continue to hold religious ceremonies, judge rules
Borough changed zoning bylaws just before Badr Islamic Centre purchased building on Langelier Blvd.
Members of the Muslim community are pleased with a Quebec Superior Court judge's decision to allow a mosque located inside a community centre in Saint-Léonard to continue practising religious ceremonies.
"We consider it fair, and justice has been really served," Samer Majzoub, president of the Canadian Muslim Forum, told CBC.
Justice has been really served.- Samer Majzoub, president of Canadian Muslim Forum
The Badr Islamic Centre has been operating in the community since 1999. It provides services to a growing number of Muslims in the borough and houses a mosque.
"The mosque at the centre has been operating for many, many years, and its activities have always been declared. There was nothing hidden about this," Majzoub said.
The group had been renting a building on Langelier Boulevard and then decided to buy it.
But right before the purchase in 2004, the borough changed the zoning to forbid places of worship.
Then, the borough took the Islamic centre to court for violating the bylaw.
Judge blasts borough
In his decision last week, Justice Jean-Yves Lalonde had strong words for the borough, saying its bylaw violated the Charter's guarantee to freedom of religion.
"The Court reproaches the City for a number of actions … In the Court's view, the City's agents acted in bad faith by unilaterally modifying the application … without the knowledge of the Centre, to add 'without ceremony,'" he wrote.
He pointed out that the building used to house a funeral home with a chapel for religious services.
Lalonde went further, reprimanding the borough for taking almost four years to approve the centre's authorization certificate – and when it finally did, refusing to allow religious ceremonies.
"The City was grossly negligent in responding to the application for an authorization certificate filed on Sept. 8, 2004 more than three and a half years later on May 7, 2008," Lalonde said.
He also said the Islamic Centre did all it could when complaints came in about too much traffic in the area during prayer times and a lack of parking.
"As soon as it noticed that traffic increased and that parking was a problem, it set up a relocation committee. Even today, despite the present dispute, the centre is looking for a new premises," Lalonde said.
"The Court is of the opinion that the centre has acted in good faith and diligently by looking for a solution to the problems voiced by its neighbours and the borough."
The borough of Saint-Léonard refused to comment on the decision, but in a written statement sent to CBC, a spokeswoman said the borough is "taking time to review and analyze the judgment with the City of Montreal, and a decision on how to proceed in this file will be taken at a later date."
With files from CBC Lauren McCallum