Credits: LUC CINQ-MARS/QMI AGENCY
MONTREAL - Relations between the orthodox Hasidic Jewish community of a wealthy Montreal borough and certain residents have gotten so bad that the council voted Monday to ban all parades and religious processions until June.
The borough of Outremont, located in the centre of Montreal, said the "moratorium" was put in place to make bylaws "more precise and easier to enforce."
However, the Outremont residents QMI Agency spoke with said the real reason behind the ban was to calm rising tensions that culminated in a nasty altercation in March between a councillor and members of the Hasidic community.
Outremont Coun. Celine Forget - who is known for her dogged pursuit of municipal violations among the Hasidic community - had to be escorted by police from an outdoor Jewish religious celebration on March 8. Video of the incident was posted on YouTube.
Forget said at the time that she was there to ensure municipal regulations were being followed.
However, Alex Werzberger, president of an umbrella organization for all the Hasidic groups in Outremont, said Forget and a group of about 50 residents have been targeting the growing Hasidic community for years.
He said certain residents painstakingly document everything Hasidic Jews in Outremont do and pressure the council to become increasingly strict with the community.
Werzberger said Outremont's Hasidic community represents between 20% and 25% of of the borough's roughly 25,000 residents.
Municipal council meetings have started getting heated between Hasidic members and other citizens.
He said the borough used to tolerate municipal parking infractions during holidays and the Jewish community was often accommodated when it had certain ceremonies.
However, Werzberger said that over the past 10 years, some residents "have made it their life mission to make the Jews miserable."
"They are a minute minority but they make noise," he said.
Forget was not available for comment.
The borough refused a request by the Hasidic community to have certain streets closed for a night procession at the end of April, which would have involved up to 1,000 people.
Outremont Mayor Marie Cinq-Mars, who was unable to be reached due to the Easter holiday weekend, recently told the Globe and Mail: "I don't think this is the time to do night processions. We have to be prudent for now. Tensions can't keep rising."
Those tensions have now started affecting other religious minorities in the neighbourhood.
The moratorium on religious processions includes the Easter ceremonies of parishioners at Outremont's St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral.
Peter Paganuzzi, who has been on the church parish council for over 20 years, said the borough won't close the streets for a religious ceremony on the eve of Easter Sunday.
Paganuzzi said sometimes the activities of the Hasidic community cause traffic jams "but it's nothing to get wound up about."
"For heaven's sake let's get together and talk about it and resolve it peacefully," he said.