Quebec City Muslims want a separate cemetery but are meeting resistance

July 17, 2017

By Alan Freeman, Washington Post |

When a gunman killed six members of a Quebec City mosque in January, five of the victims, all of them immigrants to Canada, were sent to their countries of origin for burial. Only one was buried in Canada, at a Muslim-run cemetery near Montreal, three hours away.

That’s because Quebec City’s growing Muslim community doesn’t have its own cemetery despite years of trying. After a divisive referendum on Sunday, it still doesn’t.

Residents of St-Apollinaire, a town of 6,000 about 20 miles southwest of Quebec City, voted to turn down an application for a zoning change to allow the Islamic Cultural Center, owner of the mosque where the deadly shooting occurred, to open a cemetery.

The vote was open to only 49 residents living adjacent to the proposed cemetery site; 36 turned up. Sixteen voted for the cemetery, while 19 voted against. One ballot was spoiled.

Despite the small numbers involved, however, the decision was front-page news in Canada — a sign that some say shows that xenophobia is alive and well in a country known as a welcoming place for immigrants and a haven for tolerance.

“Thousands of Muslims in Quebec City have been told we don’t want you,” said Mohamed Kesri, secretary of the Islamic Cultural Center, adding that his community would consider its alternatives, including a complaint to the provincial human rights commission. “Ignorance and misunderstanding have won the day,” added Mohamed Labidi, president of the center.

Bernard Ouellet, mayor of St-Apollinaire, backed the cemetery proposal. He blamed its rejection on fear and misinformation. Also speaking in favor of the project was Cardinal Gérald Cyprien Lacroix, Quebec City’s archbishop, who pleaded with voters to allow the cemetery to proceed as “a mark of respect for another religion.”
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