Toronto

'Frustrated' Muslim groups want zoning bylaw dropped so Scarborough school can open

Enamul Haque and hundreds of Muslim demonstrators called on the city to take extraordinary steps to reopen a Scarborough school and mosque on Wednesday.

Mayor, city planners say rules must be followed, even after 2nd protest in weeks

Imam Said Ragaeh, centre, said he's frustrated the city won't alter a zoning-bylaw so the Sakinah Community School can open in Scaborough. (John Rieti/CBC)

Enamul Haque and hundreds of Muslim demonstrators called on the city to take extraordinary steps to reopen a Scarborough school and mosque on Wednesday.

"As Muslims, we are going through so much right now," he told a city hall committee room full of demonstrators, as well as Coun. Michael Ford and several other councillors who agreed to hear them out.

Currently, a zoning bylaw that forbids places of worship in so-called employment lands is forcing the closure of the Sakinah Community School, which serves as both a school and mosque in the Birchmount and Lawrence area.

The group wants that bylaw thrown out, arguing its restrictions have unintended discriminatory effects for them and other faith-based groups because it forces them to look for residential or commercial land which they cannot afford.

"We're all frustrated," said Iman Said Ragaeh, surrounded by a crush of reporters and demonstrators.

Abdul Ingar, president of the Markham Muslim Association, said the city needs to treat his and other faith-based communities better. (John Rieti/CBC)

Ragaeh said he would love to move to a new ward, but the building his organization currently has serves his community well.

"We cannot find that somewhere else," he said.

Mayor's letter says rules must be applied 'evenly'

Mayor John Tory met with the group two weeks ago and said he would have his staff look into the matter, and yesterday sent Sakinah's leaders a letter saying the zoning bylaws must be "applied fairly and evenly across the city."

Tory's letter adds: "Any suggestion that Sakinah Community Centre is being singled out or treated unfairly under the by-law because of your particular faith is wrong."

Etobicoke Coun. Michael Ford booked a committee room to hear the group's concerns. (John Rieti/CBC)

Tory said city staff have agreed to help find a new building where the organization can set up, or the community centre can either ask for rezoning or set up a social enterprise at the site.

Paul Zuliani, a city planning director, admits this is a "complex" issue, but said Toronto needs to preserve its employment lands so people can create jobs there. He also said the building just doesn't make sense for a school, as there can be noise, dust and vibration issues in the area, as well as significant trucking operations in the area.

"These are inherently not safe places for people to run sensitive uses out of," he said.

Ragaeh is calling on city officials to hold a public roundtable with his group to further discuss the issue. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Rieti is the senior producer of digital at CBC Toronto. Born and raised in Newfoundland, John has worked in CBC newsrooms across the country. In Toronto, he's covered everything from the Blue Jays to Toronto city hall. Outside of work, catch him cycling in search of the city's best coffee.

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