‘Discriminatory and unconstitutional’: religious groups react to Saint-Lambert zoning decision

WATCH ABOVE: Religious groups are speaking out after a zoning law change that states only nine sites in Saint-Lambert can be used for places of worship. As Global’s Kelly Greig reports, eight of them are already taken by Christian churches.

SAINT-LAMBERT— Author Mark Twain once said that in Montreal, you can’t throw a stone without breaking a church window.

While that might be true on the island, in the South Shore city of Saint-Lambert, that saying doesn’t exactly apply.

The city is proposing a zoning change making it illegal to have a place of worship outside very specific zones.

The number of zones would be reduced from 19 to nine.

Eight of the spots are already occupied by Christian churches.

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“I hope it is not a phobia issue because, why? Do you have many issues of people coming to ask for cultural centres?” asked Samer Mazjoud, President of the Canadian Muslim Forum.

“To the best of my knowledge, none of the other cultures went to the city and applied for anything.”

He said the issue was brought to his attention last week and he’s already heard complaints from the Muslim community.

“Why should they be deprived? Because we don’t like their culture? This is something very discriminatory. It could very well be unconstitutional too.”

“There’s a possibility that some residents will go the legal side and challenge this in court,” he said.

That claim holds water with Steven Slimovitch, a lawyer and B’Nai Brith’s National Legal Counsel.

“We were quite surprised. We’ve always felt the courts have been clear,” he said.

“It would be against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to ban religious buildings if you will at large and that’s ostensibly what the city is trying to do.”

The Mayor of St-Lambert was unavailable for an interview Thursday.

He did state previously that the bill was not intended to target any religious communities, but was to protect business areas.

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The proposal would also change the definition of a community centre to exclude religious activities.

Even though the bill was passed in city council with a vote of six to one, it’s still not set in stone.

There’s a public hearing next Wednesday to discuss the decision and it could be overruled.