Quebec town rejects plan to build Muslim cemetery

Fear and disinformation: Quebec town rejects plan to build area’s only Muslim cemetery
3 min read
18 July, 2017
Society: A small community near Canada's Quebec City has voted against building what would have been the first Muslim cemetery near the provincial capital, reports Jillian Kestler D'Amours.
The Muslim community is still reeling after a deadly shooting earlier this year [Getty]
A small community near Canada's Quebec City has voted against building what would have been the first Muslim cemetery near the provincial capital, where the Muslim community is still reeling after a deadly shooting earlier this year.

Bernard Ouellet, the mayor of St-Apollinaire, had backed the project.

"It looks bad. I think that what drove the community's choice in general was really fear, disinformation. I'm convinced of that," Ouellet told Radio-Canada after Sunday's referendum.

Forty-nine St-Apollinaire residents were eligible to vote in a referendum on a zoning change that would have allowed the cemetery to be built: 19 voted against, 16 voted in favour, and one ballot was thrown out, Radio-Canada reported.

The plan to build a Muslim cemetery raised tensions in the small town, located about 40 kilometres south of Quebec City, almost immediately after it was proposed in the aftermath of a deadly attack on the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec.
We're in a multicultural society. We live together, we work together, why wouldn't we die together
Six Muslim men were killed as they prayed in the evening of January 29.

Shortly following the attack, local Muslim community leaders spoke about the longstanding need to have a Muslim cemetery nearby to bury the dead according to Islamic customs.

Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume said at the time that the municipality was "working with [the Muslim community] to see what they need".

Of the six men killed in the attack, five were repatriated to their home countries for burial - Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and Guinea - while one was buried in the province's only Muslim cemetery, about three hours away near Montreal.

That 3,000-plot cemetery was inaugurated in 2015, while small sections are reserved for Muslims in a handful of other cemeteries in the Montreal area.

Earlier this month, a new, reserved section for Muslims was also opened in a cemetery near Quebec City.

Opponents of the project have rejected allegations of racism.

"We're in a multicultural society. We live together, we work together, why wouldn't we die together?" Sunny Letourneau, the spokesperson for a local citizens' group that was against the cemetery, recently asked CTV News.

But the president of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City, Mohamed Labidi, said on Sunday that "ignorance and misunderstanding have won the day".

"This is very disappointing. It was just a cemetery. How could we arrive at this result?" Labidi asked The Globe and Mail, adding that he would consider challenging the case in court.

"We are Canadian citizens just like everyone else. Why are we being treated differently? We're now starting over at zero. We will fight," Labidi told the newspaper.

Jillian Kestler D'Amours is a journalist based in Canada.
Follow her on Twitter: @jkdamours