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Quebec Town Votes ‘No’ to Muslim Cemetery

The initiative was spearheaded by the same mosque where six men were killed earlier this year.
Mohamed Kesri, who lead the project for Muslim Cemeteries, at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Qubec | Canadian Press / Jacques Boissinot 

On Sunday, the decision on whether or not the Quebec City region would have its own Muslim cemetery was put in the hands of 36 small-town residents, who ultimately voted against the project with a tally of 19 to 16. (One vote was rejected.)

The cemetery, which would have occupied a 60,000 square feet plot of land in the small town of Saint Apollinaire, would have been the first in the region.

The project made headlines in the tragic aftermath of the Quebec mosque shooting last January, when it was revealed the families of the six victims were facing an additional challenge: finding a resting place for their loved ones. The bodies of five of the six men were eventually repatriated to their home countries.


The lack of dedicated resting spaces has been a long-standing problem for the province's Muslim population. It's estimated that about 70 percent of Quebec's Muslim families choose to repatriate their loved ones' bodies to their home countries, a complicated process that can cost up to $10,000.

For years, Quebec's Muslim populations have been lobbying to change this, often negotiating space in existing cemeteries. The Quebec-area project, which was launched in 2016, aimed to rezone and purchase a 60,000 square feet plot of land in the nearby town of St-Apollinaire, Québec. The initiative was shepherded by the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre, the very mosque where the January 2017 shooting took place.

The plan was met with community opposition, and in April a 40-signature petition forced St-Apollinaire municipal council to organize a referendum on the project. As per municipal law, voting eligibility was a matter of proximity to the land in question, giving the decisional power to 49 people.

The vote took place on Sunday night, and media reports indicated that police had been brought in to supervise the voting offices, a testament to the tensions the debate had created in the area. In total, only 36 people cast their ballot, with a slim majority opting to shut down the plan.

On Monday, Quebec mayor Régis Labeaume called the decision "regrettable."

"Forty-nine people had a do-or-die decision on a project that has an important sociological impact on all of Quebec," he stated. "That's pretty hard to believe, and we should be questioning our governance system."


St-Apollinaire mayor Bernard Ouellet told VICE he was also disappointed with the outcome.

"I had no problem with the plan, the cemetery was in the perfect zone, in a peaceful industrial area, it didn't bother anyone," he deplored. Still, the municipality did everything it could, he maintained, defending the methodology. "Even though this might seem weird, even though not many people came forward, we respected the democratic process that's in place."

Much of the resistance stems from fear, he said, adding that his community's 5,000 or so residents are seldom exposed to Islam. "There are no Muslims here, we don't have contact with them," he explained. "And with everything we see in the media right now, let's just say they don't see the best side."

This manifests a need for a broader discussion on the topic of integration and acceptability, Ouellet believes.

"For us the file is closed, but if we want to move forward, someone will have to take this over," he said.

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