St-Apollinaire mayor won't reopen debate over Muslim cemetery

St-Apollinaire mayor won't reopen debate over Muslim cemetery
St-Apollinaire mayor won't reopen debate over Muslim cemetery

Though Muslims have lived in Quebec City for generations, there is no Islamic-owned cemetery in the area. Instead, the community buries its dead in Montreal or sends bodies back to birth countries. Paul Chiasson / THE CANADIAN PRESS

The mayor of St-Apollinaire says he has no intention of reopening the debate over a Muslim cemetery in his town any time soon.

“For the moment, we have done our bit and we’re going to take a break, I hope for a long time, from the issue,” Bernard Ouellet, mayor of the town 45 kilometres southwest of Quebec City, told the Montreal Gazette.

“I don’t want to put the population through something like this again soon.”

The issue of opening a Muslim cemetery on land now owned by a company divided the town’s 5,800 residents. 

Residents signed a register compelling St-Apollinaire to hold a referendum in which 49 people in an area around the cemetery were allowed to vote. In a referendum Sunday, the cemetery was defeated by a vote of 19 to 16.

Ouellet, who said “fear and disinformation” led to the rejection, wanted a town-wide referendum but Quebec law would not allow that. If all residents had been eligible, “it would have been more likely that the Yes side would have won,” he said.

In June, Quebec’s National Assembly passed Bill 122, which will allow municipalities to avoid referendums for zoning changes.

But cities and towns that want to abolish the referendum process must first adopt an “information and consultation” policies, and the provincial government has yet to set out guidelines for those policies.

Though Muslims have lived in Quebec City for generations, there is no Islamic-owned cemetery in the area. Instead, the community buries its dead in Montreal or sends bodies back to birth countries.

This month, the Lépine Cloudier Athos funeral home opened a Muslim section of its cemetery in Saint-Augustin-de-Desmaures, near Quebec City. It has set aside 500 lots for Muslims.

But that project was not supported by the Centre culturel islamique de Québec, which runs Quebec City’s biggest mosque and which spearheaded the St-Apollinaire plan.

It wants a cemetery that is owned by the Muslim community.

Though the community has been negotiating to buy the land since the fall, the issue came to a head after a Quebec-born gunman killed six Muslim men at a Quebec City mosque Jan. 29. Five of the six victims were buried overseas.

The Muslim community wants to buy 60,000 square feet of land adjacent to a non-denominational funeral-services company, for $215,000.

That company, Harmonia, would operate the cemetery. It has permission to bury cremated remains on the land but a zoning change would be required to allow corpses to be buried.

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