Mosques, churches and other places of worship will be able to rent commercial space in the borough of Saint-Laurent under proposed new zoning regulations.
If the zoning changes are passed, Saint-Laurent will be setting itself apart from other Montreal boroughs, which have opted to restrict where places of worship can be located.
As it stands in Saint-Laurent, a place of worship can only open in a building already used by a religious institution. The change to the bylaw would allow new places of worship to open on the second floor or basement of a commercial space.
Mayor Alan DeSousa says the borough has seen a 30 per cent increase in its population over the past 15 years and needs more religious spaces.
"We've welcomed a lot of families and we have a large degree of diversity in our community, people who come from all over the world," he said.
"As a result, our community needs to be able to find places to worship. We realized what we had before was not enough to service our community."
Under the proposed changes, religious communities won't be able to rent commercial space larger than 650 square meters and must ensure parking is available. Borough councillors will vote on the changes this spring.
Religion 'important part of society'
Saint-Laurent's willingness to let commercial space be used for religious purposes stands in stark contrast to other boroughs in the city.
In November, Outremont upheld a ban that forbids new temples of worship of any denomination from opening on Bernard Street. The same ban is in place on Van Horne and Laurier avenues.
In Ahuntsic-Cartierville, residents voted against recognizing the Ahuntsic Cultural Centre as an official mosque in a referendum last year. The vote came after the borough initially approved the cultural centre's request for official designation.
"We're taking a very different approach," said DeSousa.
"We have always been a welcoming community. We have always had an openness in terms of diversity of our population."
DeSousa cited a Quebec Superior Court decision about a mosque in Saint-Léonard as an example of what can go wrong when boroughs try to restrict places of worship.
In January, the judge ruled that the Badr Islamic Centre, located inside a community centre, should be allowed to continue practising religious ceremonies.
"Saint-Laurent is one community where you have over 166 different ethnicities living in peaceful coexistence," DeSousa said.
"We already have a history and a certain track record of being able to find ways where different communities can live together and have mutual respect. This step we're taking is one more step along that route."