OUTREMONT, Montreal – The chassidic community of Outremont has won a legal round in its dispute with the borough over the use of minibuses on Purim, but that victory does not guarantee tickets will not be issued again this holiday.
On Feb. 22 in Montreal municipal court, the prosecution withdrew the fines levied against a bus rental company and its drivers last year and in 2014.
The judge approved the decision saying that there is insufficient signage on the streets of
Outremont to inform the public about the ban on this type of vehicle.
Two tickets, carrying an average fine of $245, were issued in each of the two years.
Two chassidic parties, the Belz School and the Yam Hatalmud Foundation, had intervenor status in the case. Both are among the chassidic groups that rented from the company.
The defendants were represented by lawyers associated with the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR), who argued that the Outremont bylaw has a discriminatory effect on Chassidim and therefore contravenes the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as Quebec’s rights charter.
The case was to have been heard Dec. 3, but was postponed to Feb. 22.
CRARR director Fo Niemi said, “The question is what happens now? Will the police stop issuing the fines this Purim, or will the borough put up signs before then? This is not over yet. The bylaw is still on the books.”
Purim takes place March 23 and 24 this year. Niemi said CRARR will try to get answers well before then.
The Purim custom among Chassidim is for costumed children to go from house to house around the neighbourhoods spreading cheer and collecting charitable donations.
They are transported by minibuses.
In 2003, Outremont adopted Bylaw 1171, which prohibits the circulation of buses on residential streets, except during “special events.” Purim has never fallen under that designation, despite the community’s request.
Nevertheless, the first ticketing of the vehicles it used only occurred in 2013, and it was not contested.
Buses are defined in the bylaw as vehicles with more than two back wheels, but the defendants’ lawyers pointed out that such vehicles are no longer manufactured and all minibuses now have four back wheels.
The borough has suggested vans be used instead, but the community says the larger minibuses are more economical and safer.
Niemi said CRARR is prepared to go back to court if Outremont “does not take any kind of positive action to review this unfair bylaw.
“Ultimately, we don’t want the chassidic community to continuously be penalized to the point of feeling harassed by city authorities for an activity that is so fundamental to the community.”