MONTREAL, January 2, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) - A Montreal prosecutor told a Quebec court recently that holding a religious ceremony in a building not zoned as a place of worship, even if it is a private home, is illegal.
The statement came during a trial in the case of Paula Celani, who was fined for holding a gathering of her Catholic group in a building rented from the municipality. The group, Fondation En Route, had rented the facility, the Maison du Brasseur in the Montreal borough of Lachine, twice before for a Mass, a potluck lunch, hymn singing and to show a religious video. The group also sold rosaries made by members’ children to raise money for schools in Africa.
After renting the building for their event in 2009, Celani was given a ticket for $144. The ticket stated she was in contravention of a zoning bylaw for using the building for a religious purpose, even though she had informed the city employee with whom she arranged the rental that the building would again be used for their religious gathering.
“I was very, very clear,” Celani told the court, according to a National Post report. She added that the employee’s only concern was to ensure the video being shown was not sexual.
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In questioning Celani, city prosecutor José Costa asked if she had read the fine print on the rental contract which excluded religious use of the building. Celani replied that the city employee said there was no problem with Fondation En Route’s intended use of the building.
Celani’s lawyer, Robert Reynolds, argued that the bylaw is intended to prevent the establishment of a permanent place of worship in the area where Fondation En Route’s event took place, rather than ban any religious ceremony.
Reynolds said that fining Celani infringed on her rights of freedom of religion and assembly, and violated Fondation En Route’s right to equality since other groups have rented the facility for their cultural events.
“The position of the city is that you cannot even pronounce the name of God, cannot taken an action that would be considered religious in a public place,” Reynolds told the court. He maintained, “The right to live one’s religion can be exercised outside a church.”
After Judge Bernard Mandeville asked the prosecutors if a strict interpretation of the bylaw would ban a religious event even in a private home in the area, another city lawyer, Veronica Mollica, was reported to have told him that the letter of the law would prohibit such an event.
Outside the court Paula Celani told reporters that she fought the fine because her faith and freedom to worship was an important part of her life, and the ticket made her feel “like a criminal.”
“I don’t see why a bylaw should tell me that I can’t pray or attend a mass. It’s as simple as that,” Celani said.
City of Montreal - Lachine
Maison Du Brasseur rental information website: http://ville.montreal.qc.ca/portal/page?_pageid=8117,89131584&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL
2901 Blvd St Joseph Lachine, Quebec H8S 4B7
Phone: 514-634-3471, Ext 302 or 828