In the era of “smart city”, some 260 citizens participated, on December 1st, in a public consultation in the borough of Outremont, on a draft regulation that would prohibit the opening of new places of worship on Bernard and Laurier avenues. My professional activities have prevented me from attending, but here’s the gist of a letter that I sent to the Borough Council, that day:
▸ English translation by courtesy of Outremont Hassid
“Some citizens of our district believe, rightly, that it is a shame to transform public places (such as the restaurant Mère poule or Rôtisserie Fusée) into “closed” places since its reserved to one community. Rue Bernard, they say, should retain its commercial vocation. I can understand this point of view.
Personally, I disagree, because the expansion of the Hasidic Jewish community appears to me as an inescapable reality that cannot be ignored. In essence, this community needs places of religious and cultural practice. If we knowingly prevent this, that means we barely tolerate its existence by denying space for their natural growth.
In this case, we need clear about the real debate: Has the Hasidic Jewish community, over the time, become undesirable in Montreal and Outremont? If so, why? What danger does it pose to the population? Is it terrorist inclinations? Is it behavior that’s a serious source of social unrest that needs urgent correction? How exactly? And how is the borough dealing with the long-term problem of complex coexistence? By stepping up its efforts to marginalize or by improving communication that may lead to better integration?
By confining the worship places to the north of Van Horne, and pushing the religious community far from ordinary life, so we don’t see them, in my opinion, will in the long term only hamper any possibility of harmonious integration of the new generations. I find it really sad, especially since I have very good relations with several families of Hasidic neighbors with whom I of course sometimes exchange recipes, neighborly services and, dare I say, frequent tokens of friendship.
That said, this whole issue could of actually been put on the table, expressed, discussed and negotiated in a manner acceptable to all. Instead, your administration deliberately ignited a powder-keg by first allowing the transformation of a locale on Bernard this summer, and then concocting this plan in secret which I understand was hidden from one of the councilors, and now you are submitting it to a public consultation which will inevitably generate a lot of mistrust, resentment, frustration on both sides.
Rather than address the issue rigorously, advancing cautiously, while preserving peace and social harmony, this ill-crafted public consultation will advance a bit more this confrontational mindset that prevails in Outremont for many years now. It’s really sad, and forgive me tell you, I find that it rounds-off the dismal administrative and political failure on this issue, which can be attributed to the administrations of the last twenty years, including yours.”
Outremont, a “smart city”?
Clearly, to the extent that it applies to all places of worship, this draft regulation does not appear to me legally discriminatory. But the problem is elsewhere, mainly in poor communication that exists between the administration of Outremont, its political staff with citizens in general and with the Hasidic community in particular.
Before coming up with a restrictive bylaw project which is evidently causing more humiliation to most Jewish citizens of the neighborhood, it would have been much “smarter” to set up a consultation group, with representative that takes the time to debate calmly problems raised repeatedly. Thus, all parties could have raised its objections to the other and it legitimate needs. With a little goodwill on both sides, it would certainly reached an agreement, and thus avoided the outcry at the preliminary public consultation.
Flexing muscles, playing the card of identity populism, and thus reinforcing the prejudices of each other will only strengthen polarized positions. Hell, it’s always the “others”, isn’t it? Its about time the concept of “smart city” landed in Outremont. And I’m not talking technology here, but about culture of “living together”. In this district as throughout the planet, the future is uncertain like what the weather will be next month.