Tensions between Montreal Hasidic Jews and neighbours ends up in court

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

The long-simmering tensions between Montreal's ultra-orthodox Hasidic Jewish community and some of its neighbours is being played out in court this week.

Writer Pierre Lacerte is being sued for libel and defamation by prominent businessman Michael Rosenberg, who alleges his blog's obsessive interest in Rosenberg's activities and the Hasidim amounts to anti-semitism. Rosenberg claims postings about him have hurt his reputation and business.

Lacerte, a former magazine journalist, lives across the street from a Hasidic synagogue in Montreal's Outremont neighbourhood. For years he's been documenting petty infractions such as double parking and development of the synagogue that could violate zoning rules.

He's already been subject to a restraining order Rosenberg obtained against him.

[ Related: Trial begins against Outremont blogger accused of anti-Semitism ]

When he lives his house he's usually armed with a camera to record any wrongdoings, the National Post notes in a story about the case.

Rosenberg, whose RosDev Group is one of Quebec's major real estate developers, his son Martin and Hasidic community spokesman Alex Werzberger are claiming $375,000 in damages.

CBC News reported that Rosenberg told the court Lacerte's posts about him include accusations of influence peddling with figures linked to Quebec's massive corruption scandal in the construction business.

Lacerte has counter-sued for $725,000, claiming the libel suit has made him unemployable as a writer. In a blog post Monday about the case, Lacerte included an illustration depicting Rosenberg as Godzilla and himself as a Lilliputian.

Lacerte said the three individuals suing him account for a total of 15 per cent of the content of his five-year-old blog's posts.

“I am not someone who is obsessed," he told the Post. "I am someone who when he starts something goes right to the end."

But Rosenberg disagrees, saying Lacerte is obsessed with Outremont's large Hasidic community and focused exclusively on infractions committed by Jews.

“He is definitely an anti-Semite, and it’s unfortunate that we have to deal with such people," Rosenberg told the Post.

"Since he came in with his blog and he is following everything that the Jews are doing in Outremont, the harmony in Outremont went down tremendously. People like him and a few of his cronies are stirring up a lot of problems.”

To be sure, there are continuing frictions between some Outremont residents and their Hasidic neighbours.

Last fall, a city councillor for Outremont, which has its own civic government, got into a nasty confrontation with the Hasidim over what the Globe and Mail called her "dogged surveillance" of the community, which ended with police being called.

In response, council barred a street procession by the Hasidim to mark the visit of a prominent New York rabbi. The moratorium, based on concerns the late night march would disturb the neighbourhood, also forced cancellation of a Russian Orthodox Easter procession held since 1964.

[ Related: Outremont halts parades, processions ]

Back in 2006, Montrealers were treated to a spat between members of a Hasidic synagogue and the YMCA across the alley over the visibility of what they consider immodestly dressed fitness buffs through the gym's windows.

The YMCA installed window shades and later replaced the clear windows with frosted glass.