In the News: Religious Ceremonies in the Parks and Streets of Montreal

Islamic holiday celebration in Montreal park draws ire from secularists, Joe Bongiorno, The Canadian Press, Microsoft Start, 2024-06-20.

MONTREAL — Earlier this week, members of Montreal’s Muslim community gathered in a park to celebrate the Eid al-Adha holiday, a day when families traditionally wear their finest clothes, share gifts, feast and pray together.

Religious celebrations are not uncommon at Parc des Hirondelles in the Ahuntsic-Cartierville borough: for several years the city has authorized an outdoor Catholic mass held by the Italian community on the grassy field.

Eid was celebrated in the park last year without objections. But this year, when images of Muslims kneeling down to pray on the grass were widely shared on social media — including by prominent Quebec pundits — the borough started to receive complaints.

“It’s rare that we receive 10 or 15 emails exactly on the same subject, exactly at the same moment, so …. we know that something is going on the social media or on the media,” said Ahuntsic-Cartierville borough mayor Émilie Thuillier. The complaints, she said, were enough for her to consider banning all religious events in Parc des Hirondelles.

“We have noted that some boroughs in Montreal prohibit religious ceremonies in parks and we will explore this issue …. but we haven’t taken a decision,” she said.

The episode is part of a long-standing debate in Quebec on the presence of religious expression in public life — particularly Islamic expression. Quebec’s promotion of state secularism led to the adoption of Bill 21, which bans some public servants, including teachers and police officers, from wearing religious symbols on the job. Muslim groups have criticized the law for having a disproportionate affect on their community, as many Muslim women wear a head scarf.

David Rand, a spokesperson for Rassemblement pour la laïcité, a pro-secularism group, says religious celebrations belong in houses of worship and not public spaces. His organization wrote a letter published in Montreal’s Le Devoir newspaper that said the city has allowed a public park to transform into “sacred space for worship.”

In an interview, Rand said, “As a religious event, it excludes people of other religions, and this is supposed to be a public park open to the general public. What they’ve done is they turned the part of the park into a temporary mosque.”


Rand says all faiths, including Christianity and Judaism, have fundamentalists in their congregations, but he says Islam has a “definite political goal of occupying as much space as possible.” He rejects accusations of Islamophobia, saying the word itself is a “nonsense term” and a “code for blasphemy” used to censor criticism of the religion.


Borough mayor Émilie Thuillier is being disingenuous. She claims that her borough does not prohibit religious ceremonies in parks. The very website of the Ahuntsic-Cartierville borough clearly indicates that such ceremonies are indeed banned. See screenshot below.

Furthermore, the article is misleading in other ways. For example, it claims that “[r]eligious celebrations are not uncommon at Parc des Hirondelles,” but how can this be if they are explicitly banned by the borough? The article claims that “Montreal’s Muslim community” will be gathering in that park, when in fact the event was organized by a particular mosque, located close by, which is where it should have been held. The reference to “Montreal’s Muslim community” implies that Muslims are a monolithic group who all behave the same, which is an insult to many Muslims who may not agree with such an invasive event, where a public space is taken over by a ceremony where non-Muslims and insufficiently pious Muslims are not welcome. The poster annoncing the event specified that participants should “perform their ablutions before arriving for the prayer” (« Veuillez faire vos ablutions avant de venir à la prière »). During the event, the attendees were segregated by sex, with women and girls separated from and behind the men and boys.

Relevant Links

Screenshot of Website of Ahuntsic-Cartierville Borough, taken 20th June 2024

Ahuntsic-Cartierville Borough

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