CITY FACES CHARTER CHALLENGE FOR TICKETING OF HASIDIC COMMUNITY'S MINI-BUSES IN OUTREMONT
Montreal, December 3, 2015 — For years, the Borough of Outremont has denied that its bus bylaw was discriminatory, but it now faces a Charter challenge for the overzealous ticketing of mini-bus drivers and vehicle rental companies serving the local Hasidic Jewish community.
Civil rights lawyers ask that tickets issued in 2014 and 2015 be dismissed by the Montreal municipal court for the discriminatory effect they have on the community during its celebration of Purim, citing violations of both the Canadian and Quebec Charters of Rights and Freedoms. Bylaw 1171 was adopted in 2003 and has been an annual source of tension in the neighbourhood in recent years.
During Purim, a religious holiday, many Hasidic Jewish schools transport classes of students in mini-buses to local homes as part of their celebrations. Under the Outremont bylaw mini-buses are deemed to be “buses,” but there seems to be some confusion as to whether or not Purim falls under the “special event” provisions of the bus Bylaw. Consequently, bus drivers and rental companies retained by Hasidic educational institutions have found themselves with a pile of fines, averaging about $244 each.
The bus company is represented by Aymar Missakila, a civil rights lawyer working closely with CRARR.
“The By-law may have a neutral, non-discriminatory intent, but its enforcement by Borough security officers and the Montreal Police Service clearly creates discriminatory consequences for the bus company and drivers who serve Hasidic children, families and schools, and ultimately, the Hasidic community as a whole,” he said.
Mr. Missakila will seek the dismissal of these fines at today's hearing at the Municipal Court of Montreal. He will submit that the application of Outremont's bus Bylaw (but not the bylaw itself) contravenes the Equality Clause of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and that of the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, among other sections.
“The Bylaw indirectly penalizes the Hasidic community and discourages bus companies and drivers from serving Jewish schools,” he added. “We are not challenging the constitutionality of the Bylaw, but its discriminatory effects.”
Some of the bus drivers are represented by Laurent Koné, a civil rights lawyer.
Two Hasidic educational institutions that hired drivers who were subjected to fines have sought intervenor status for the hearing. Through their lawyer, May Chiu, a civil rights lawyer with Ouellet Nadon, both are seeking to intervene on the grounds that the “continued overly rigid, inequitable and discriminatory application of said By-Law threatens to impede the (it) from … entering into future contracts with bus transport companies, thereby diminishing (its) ability to serve its students and families and ultimately, fulfill its mandate.”
“My clients are very concerned about the Borough of Outremont using this and other bylaws to penalize, restrict the freedoms and compromise the vitality of the Hassidic community,” she said.
The Borough's recent initiative to pass a controversial bylaw to push new religious institutions to the outer limits of Outremont eerily echoes the very specific restrictions of Bylaw 1171, which specifically includes streets where Hassidic families reside.
“This bylaw, and other equally restrictive regulations adopted in recent months, creates a chilling effect on the Jewish community of Outremont, and it is time that they are subject to Charter challenges to ensure the full protection of fundamental rights and freedoms of the Hasidic community,” added Ms. Chiu.
Subsequent to the court hearing this morning, the case has been postponed to February 22, 2016. As well, the Court confirmed both institutions’ intervenor status for the hearing.