MONTREAL, QC November 3, 2011 – The Catholic Civil Rights League has expressed its support for a group of Catholics who were fined by a Montreal-area municipality for conducting a Mass and other religious activities in a public building they had rented for the gathering.
The event took place at Lachine’s Maison du Brasseur on a Sunday two years ago, and involved about 80 members of the lay group En Route. The private gathering included an inspirational video, prayer, Mass and a potluck lunch. About seven months later one of the organizers, Paula Celani, received a $144 ticket from Lachine citing a bylaw stating that no activities of worship are permitted on the property due to zoning regulations. According to published news reports, employees working at the facility had reported the religious nature of the events to their supervisors.
Joanne McGarry, executive director of the Catholic Civil Rights League, says freedom of worship is Charter right, and while municipalities are free to regulate land use there is a need for some flexibility. “Freedom of religion is guaranteed in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as the Quebec constitution. This citation shows either a remarkable lack of common sense in the application of a zoning by-law, or an outright lack of regard for religious rights and freedoms. The League has been active in religious freedom issues for over 25 years and I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone in Canada being penalized in any way for celebrating Mass.”
The En Route group is now challenging the ticket, and is represented by lawyer Robert Reynolds, who in a court appearance Tuesday was granted an extension to submit constitutional arguments.
Conflict between anti-religious secularism and religious rights in the historically Catholic province has been growing in recent years. The League is an intervenor in the Supreme Court of Canada appeal of parents seeking an exemption from the province’s new Ethics and Religious Culture Course. The League is also supporting Catholic parents challenging the law denying provincial subsidies to nursery schools and daycare centres that have any significant religious content.