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Outremont braces for possible Purim tensions

Protest in Outremont last Purim [You Tube video screenshot]

MONTREAL — The chassidic communities of Outremont are hoping to avoid the conflict that marred its Purim festivities in that borough last year after efforts to find accommodation failed.

A proposal before the borough council earlier this month to reduce the chances of another confrontation like the one that occurred on the street between councillor Céline Forget and some chassidic youths in 2012 was rejected.

Forget, a longtime crusader against the Chassidim’s alleged violations of municipal regulations, got into a heated argument with some revellers after she took photos of their activities during Purim of last year. The clash, which drew the police, was posted on YouTube and viewed by many.

Purim in Outremont in 2012

On Feb. 4, the borough council chose to not vote on recommendations by its Comité consultatif sur les relations intercommunautaires aimed at ensuring that this weekend’s holiday be peaceful.

A source of irritation to Forget and some residents is the chassidic tradition of teenaged boys going from house to house in their neighbourhoods by minibuses spreading cheer and collecting charitable donations.

The opponents point to the fact that 10 years ago, the council passed a bylaw prohibiting embarking and disembarking from intercity buses in Outremont. It stemmed from complaints about the Chassidim’s use of large chartered buses for regular travel between Montreal and New York.

Mindy Pollak, a member of the Comité consultatif and a founding member the Friends of Hutchison (Street), said in an opinion piece in the Montreal Gazette that there was no objection to the minibuses until 2009, when Forget was elected as an independent councillor.

After last year’s dust-up, representatives of the chassidic communities requested that the bylaw be amended to exempt the smaller vehicles.

The Comité consultatif recommended a two-day exemption for this year’s Purim celebrations on Feb. 23 and 24, and continued deliberation on a long-term solution.

The Chassidim agreed to distribute pamphlets explaining the holiday and to minimize inconvenience to others by, for example, paying attention to where they parked.

Pollak believes the majority of the council was in favour of the amendment, but it was removed from the agenda of the Feb. 4 meeting, and replaced by a “watered-down version.”

According to her account, three people spoke out against any changes to the 2003 bylaw. When no one seconded the altered amendment, it was dropped.

The Chassidim are now looking for alternative means of shuttling the youngsters around.

B’nai Brith Canada supported an exemption for the holiday “to allow a joyous Jewish religious holiday to be celebrated in a safe environment.

“The bylaw passed by the borough in 2003 was never designed to ban minibuses inside of Outremont, rather larger intercity buses,” said national legal council Steven Slimovitch, who hopes there will not be a recurrence of the “extremely regrettable” confrontation of 2012.

However, B’nai Brith concedes that numerous buses, no matter how compact, could be dangerous and suggests that “a single reasonably-sized bus” be used.

The organization also wanted assurances that the chassidic boys “not fall victim… to harassment and intimidation.

“It seems mean-spirited to want to quash children’s enjoyment of Purim through street celebrations. Nobody would think of trying to close down the public face of Halloween.”

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