Quebec town moving forward with Muslim cemetery referendum plans

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Quebec town moving forward with Muslim cemetery referendum plans

The mayor of Saint-Apollinaire and his councillors are pushing ahead in the process to create a Muslim cemetery in the town.

Mayor Bernard Ouellet said they want to make sure the process is as democratic as possible, and so the town plans to hold a referendum over a zoning change that would allow the cemetery to open.

"We think we need to give those for and against an equal chance to express themselves," he told CBC after Monday's council meeting.

Ouellet is in favour of the initiative, but there is a faction of residents in the town, about 35 kilometres southwest of Quebec City, who are not.

About 20 opponents attended the meeting last night and suggested the council immediately reject the zoning application because, they say, Muslim people have other options elsewhere.

They also asked the town to nix the idea of holding a referendum, even though it was opponents to the plan who wanted a referendum in the first place. They now say not holding a vote will save the town money.

But councillors ignored their requests and are going ahead with the next step to put the zoning change to a vote, which is the public register to be held sometime next week.

'Open and welcoming'

Quebec City's Muslim community has been in discussions with the Harmonia funeral home in Saint-Apollinaire to buy land to establish their own cemetery since September 2016.

The issue took on new urgency when the families of the men gunned down in January's deadly shooting at a Quebec City mosque had nowhere nearby to bury their dead according to the rituals of the Islamic faith.

There are no dedicated burial grounds for Muslims anywhere outside the greater Montreal region.

The bodies of five of the six men killed in the attack were returned to their countries of origin, while one was buried in Laval.

The cemetery in Saint-Apollinaire would be created in a wooded area on the outskirts of town.

At the meeting, Claude Baron, who lives across the highway from where the cemetery would be, said he doesn't understand why the town is pushing so hard for the project.

Ouellet said he wants the cemetery to be built because it would show the community is "open and welcoming."

Public register, then referendum

Only those who live or work a certain distance from the proposed site can vote in a referendum, if the town garners enough support to hold one.

For the referendum to go ahead, about 18 people must sign a register at town hall which will be open for one day between May 8 and 10. The exact date will be announced later this week.

If enough people register, the referendum, in which about 70 people can vote, will take place July 16.

Ouellet has said he believes the project has wide support.