Jews can't use chalets as synagogue, school

Quebec, Canada - The Quebec Court of Appeal has ruled in favour of a Laurentian town that wants to stop a Hasidic Jewish community from using two chalets as a synagogue and school.

But the Congregation of the Followers of the Rabbis of Belz to Strengthen Torah says it is not giving up and will apply to have the case heard by the Supreme Court of Canada.

The town of Val Morin, about 90 kilometres northwest of Montreal, contends the group lied about how the cottages would be used when it applied for a building permit about 20 years ago.

But the congregation's lawyer, Julius Grey, asked whether it mattered if his clients weren't completely forthcoming.

"It's arguable both ways, but I think it's worth asking the question" at the Supreme Court, he said in an interview yesterday.

The court ruled that while the group's right to freedom of religion may have been limited, it was not "denied, ignored or compromised" by the town's zoning bylaws.

Furthermore, the court said, freedom of religion doesn't give one the right to worship or to build a religious school wherever one wants.

Members of the community, whose synagogue is on Jeanne Mance St. in Montreal, have been spending eight-week summer vacations in Val Morin for more than 20 years.

The bulk of the colony - 40 families, totalling about 200 people - lives in 16 cottages scattered along the Rivière du Nord. Area residents have complained the Hasidim create excess garbage, more traffic and too much noise.

The Quebec Court of Appeal's unanimous decision this week upheld a two-year-old Superior Court judgment in the case.

That judge wrote, and the appeals court concurs, that the Belz community could replace the synagogue and the school, located in chalets covering about 33,000 square feet, by building on 186,000 square feet of land it owns nearby.

But the community argues that land is mostly swamp and is not usable. Community members also claim to be too poor to afford to build elsewhere.