Viewpoint expressed by the Conseil interculturel de Montréal - Managing minority places of worship in Montreal: Recommendations for a harmonious co-habitation

    MONTREAL, June 16 /CNW Telbec/ - In many major pluri-ethnic urban centres
worldwide, the increase in the number of establishments associated with
various religions poses significant challenges for municipal management. For
the Conseil interculturel de Montréal (CIM), which tabled a viewpoint on the
subject yesterday evening, the growing presence of minority places of worship
is a social and urban issue to which the city of Montreal must devote more
attention. The 11 recommendations contained in the summary Cohabitation
urbaine et usages des lieux de cultes minoritaires (Urban co-habitation and
uses of minority places of worship) are drawn up for the city of Montreal and
its boroughs.
    In the view of Bergman Fleury, the president of the Conseil interculturel
de Montréal, "the ethno-cultural communities enrich the diversity of Quebec
society, primarily through the setting up of a group of community institutions
specific to them and which attaches particular importance to the religious
aspect of their cultures of origin. How does one respond to the needs of these
groups in the perspective of the harmonious development of the city? This is a
question the city of Montreal has to consider for the district services."

    A marked increase

    A number of studies (Statistics Canada, INRS (National Centre for
Scientific Research), CDPDJ (Quebec Human Rights Commission) show there is a
growing number of followers of non-Christian religions in Montreal. It is
estimated that they attend more than one-third of the some 800 places of
worship found on the island of Montreal. Currently, requests for a permit for
such establishments are hard to quantify.
    The presence of places of worship in sectors that are already densely
populated raises co-habitation issues. These places attract huge gatherings,
which leads to situations municipal management authorities had not planned
for, and it evokes tension between the users of these establishments and the

    An inventory of places of worship

    To address this issue, the Conseil interculturel de Montréal suggests
that the city of Montreal compile an inventory of the buildings that serve as
places of worship. "Currently, official data on the number of places of
worship does not reflect a reality that is constantly changing," notes Habib
El-Hage, the vice-president of CIM. "A better grasp of where these buildings
are located would allow the boroughs to better organize and coordinate their
services. With an overview of the situation, the city could prevent
circumstances where tensions might arise." The CIM also recommends the
question of minority places of worship be formally identified in Montreal's
Master Plan as a social and urban issue. Such identification would ensure the
presence of these places would be considered when it comes to decisions about
the development and planning of the area.

    Accompany, discuss and learn

    To facilitate mutual understanding between the various communities
sharing the same space, the CIM suggests the setting up of community
discussion forums and the developing of a mediation mechanism. It proposes
that public consultations be held prior to granting a permit to a place of
worship. The CIM also recommends that municipal employees involved in
discussions about places of worship receive specific training in matters of
cultural and religious diversity.

    Changes in usage

    The increase in the number of places of worship goes hand-in-hand with
changes in the usages of such places. The buildings used by some of the new
religious groups are former churches or old buildings that have been converted
or transformed into places of prayer. Some of the buildings have been in
existence for several years, awaiting the eventual granting of a permit. A
number of establishments turn out to be in non-conformity to regulations,
particularly from the standpoint of users' safety.
    To regulate this situation, the CIM suggests the people in charge of the
places of worship be better informed and accompanied by city of Montreal
employees. It recommends that there be more harmony and coherence in the
application of the regulation. Along with this, the CIM proposes that a
management guide and regulatory framework be developed, including clarifying
the criteria to facilitate the work of municipal employees.

    For a harmonious co-habitation

    Montrealers co-habit harmoniously, even though there might be the
occasional incident. As a result, since the city was founded, Montreal has
managed to avoid creating and developing ethnic ghettos.
    The CIM's recommendations are issued with the aim of helping the city of
Montreal prevent conflicts from arising through better urban planning,
accompany the citizens and contribute to a closer intercommunity relationship
so that Montrealers continue a peaceful co-habitation, respectful of
democratic values and the diversity of the population.

    About the Conseil interculturel de Montréal

    As part of its mandate, the Conseil interculturel de Montréal conducts
research in an effort to identify and provide information on certain,
seldom-explored issues in order to draw the attention of authorities to their
importance and suggest courses of action. The opinion paper entitled,
Cohabitation urbaine et usages des lieux de cultes minoritaires: Dynamisme
social dans la gestion municipale is in keeping with this overall mission.

    The complete opinion paper is available online at

    The minority places of worship include mosques, synagogues, Hindu
temples, Sikhs and Buddhists, Oriental Christian and Orthodox churches, and
other places of prayer and gathering frequented by ethno-cultural community

For further information:

For further information: Diane Jeannotte, Diane Jeannotte
Communications, (514) 284-2860 extension 2, Cell.: (514) 772-8019; Diep Truong
Exergue Communications, (514) 524-7348, Cell.: (514) 436-2121; Source: Bergman
Fleury, President, Conseil interculturel de Montréal, (514) 868-5809

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