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Quebec mayor whose citizens rejected Muslim cemetery won’t revive project

Mohamed Kesri, the man mandated by Quebec City’s mosque to lead the cemetery project, said before the vote the community wouldn’t give up if the referendum failed. (Jacques Boissinot/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

There are no plans to use a new Quebec law in order to reintroduce the Muslim cemetery project in Saint-Apollinaire, the town’s mayor said Monday after voters rejected the proposal in a referendum over the weekend.

People in the community of 6,000 southwest of Quebec City are stressed and tired after being solicited for months over the issue, Bernard Ouellet said.

“I’m not ready to embark my citizens on another experience like this again,” he said in an interview.

A proposal to establish the Quebec City area’s first Muslim-run cemetery necessitated a referendum after enough people came forward to oppose the project.

It was defeated Sunday by a vote of 19 to 16.

The land for the proposed cemetery is located in a sparsely populated area in Saint-Apollinaire, 35 kilometres southwest of Quebec City.

Leaders in Quebec City’s Muslim community have said they plan to ask politicians to use a new law, which permits municipalities to forgo referendums on development projects, in order to bring the proposal once again before citizens.

Mohamed Kesri, the man mandated by Quebec City’s mosque to lead the cemetery project, said before the vote the community wouldn’t give up if the referendum failed.

Quebec’s legislature passed a law in June giving more power to local governments over matters such as land development, including the right to be exempt from referendums.

Municipal Affairs Minister Martin Coiteux had criticized the old system before the law was adopted. He said it empowered opponents to projects instead of encouraging dialogue between citizens and their elected leaders.

Pierre-Luc Levesque, a spokesman with the Municipal Affairs Department, said the results of Saint-Apollinaire’s referendum can’t be annulled, but the town could bring a second proposal to citizens under the new law — without going through another vote.

“A municipality that wants to forgo conducting a referendum has to adopt a policy of public consultation that conforms to the rules outlined by the minister,” he said in an email.

Those rules haven’t been announced yet, however.

“It is not possible for a municipality to forgo the referendum requirement until the rules are put in place and are in force,” Levesque said.

Ouellet said the new law “isn’t the solution at this time.”

“The law doesn’t solve everything,” he said. “I have a minority of citizens who have been really stressed out for the last three months. They were solicited from all sides. I’m not interested in having them relive that the following day. That’s clear.”

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