“Smart City” and places of worship in Outremont

Outremont City Hall: a smart city? (Photo: Axel Drainville)
Photo: Axel Drainville

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.

▸ Related: audio recording of the Borough Council of November 16th.

Public Consultation in Outremont: Peace or Intolerance?

A sukka at the U.S. Embassy in Tel AvivWith his typical verve, the smiling Pierre Lacerte calls on his blog readers to mobilize on October 29 at the Outremont public consultation to discuss the proposed change to the zoning bylaw regarding sukkas. These temporary religious huts are erected each year in our neighbourhood (and others) during the festival of Sukkot. I took the initiative to submit this comment on Lacerte’s blog and I call on all Outremonters and Montrealers who oppose the intolerant attitude of Mr. Lacerte to do the same.

Mr. Lacerte (slightly less contemptuous than “Pollack”!), you may be a good writer but you’re an even more incorrigible sophist who puts his talents to a dubious cause.

  1. Your choice of sukkot photographs is suspiciously curated. For example, you did not photograph my neighbour’s sukkot nor others equally well put together and maintained, such that one can easily find throughout neighbourhoods in Montreal, Jerusalem or Paris.
  2. Nobody (not even Mindy Pollak!) wants to propose regulations that put the public or the environment at risk. Yet the sole incident you can find to typify the supposed danger created by sukkahs is a fire that happened across the street from my house last January which was caused by a candle. Written, of course, in the conditional (which suits your yellow journalism well) as it had nothing to do with the holiday of Sukkot.

I would think that a journalism based less on hatred and more on reason would have led you to discuss the other fire last winter in Montreal. “The Christmas tree was too close to the fireplace,” the fireman said. Perhaps they should have instead bought something that was, to quote you, “lego-style made of plastic, light, easy to assemble, rot-resistant, reusable forever, etc.” Can you hardly imagine an atheist, let alone a practicing Christian, buying something so horrid? 🙂

You reserve for yourself alone the right to declare whether something is beautiful or ugly. No wonder it is hard for you to understand somebody like Mindy Pollak. Your ethnocentric, intolerant and mob mentality would easily find somebody like her difficult to fathom.

I would like to draw your attention to the question posed by my wife at the last borough council. She asked where is the injury and harm posed by the sukkahs in Outremont. I added that there is no regulation or bylaw against them in the Plateau, while in NDG sukkahs have a period of grace of 7 days before and after the holiday (see PDF).

May I remind you the context for the consultation of October 29? Contrary to your propaganda, Mindy Pollak is not responsible for filing the notice of motion out of a kind of revenge. Rather, she proposed the change to address the fact that the current bylaw is not enforceable (“15 days” but without specific before and after parameters). The motion she filed is a sensible one, echoing the approach of Côtes-des-Neiges rather than the Plateau. That this motion is acceptable to the community was evident in the testimony given at borough council.

The adoption of this motion would, I believe, reflect a broad consensus and save us from another skirmish. This is in contrast to the regulations proposed by Councilor Céline Forget, whose “3 days before and 3 days after” is simply petty. It is yet another slap to the Hasidic community. One wonders if her long term goal isn’t to have them leave “her” borough entirely.

You can count on me, Mr Lacerte, and I am sure many other residents both Hasidic and non-Hasidic, to denounce this latest intolerant drivel that, true to form, stops just shy of revealing its true ugliness. If it succeeds, Outremont will surely go down in history as Montreal’s most intolerant borough. Is this something you look forward to, Mr Lacerte? Is this what you will be harassing us with the next time you go door to door campaigning for yourself?