Fate of Hamza Chaoui, controversial imam, sealed by new bylaw barring religious teaching

A Montreal borough is bringing in a bylaw that will prevent the opening of a new community centre where controversial Imam Hamza Chaoui wished to preach.

In a special meeting Monday, the council of Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve approved wording that says community activities must be related to "sports and culture," and do not include "places of prayer or religious teachings."

“No community centre will be able to hold religious education activities. We are not targeting a religious denomination in particular — a bylaw must be more general than that — so religious education in a community centre will not be possible in the borough,” said borough Mayor Réal Ménard.

The move comes after Chaoui, a Moroccan-born imam in Montreal with controversial views on Shariah law and ties to suspected radicals, planned to establish an Islamic community centre in the borough.

Chaoui began promoting his community centre on Facebook before being granted a permit. Over the weekend, city officials denied his permit request.

New bylaw on the way

Today’s vote was the first measure taken before a bylaw is introduced.

“When we adopt this bylaw — probably in three months — we will have a clear and specific definition of what activities will be allowed to go on in a community centre,” Ménard said.

"It's going to be prohibited to teach [religion]."

Ménard said the proposed bylaw will be discussed more fully in an upcoming council meeting and undergo a public consultation before it’s officially adopted.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said he’s happy the City of Montreal acted using the tools available to it, adding that Chaoui’s comments were not acceptable.

“We have to act the right way — the right way is to act to protect the safety of citizens,” he said.

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre said Saturday that Hamza Chaoui's radical views make him a safety risk.

Who is Hamza Chaoui?

Chaoui supports the imposition of Shariah law in Islamic countries, and says that men and women are not equal. He has also said stoning and cutting off people's hands can be appropriate punishments for crimes, and that democracy is incompatible with Islam.

​Chaoui has preached at the St-Jean-sur-Richelieu mosque attended by Martin Couture-Rouleau, the Muslim convert who killed warrant officer Patrice Vincent in October.

Chaoui was also the leader of a Muslim association at Laval University. One of that association's members, Chiheb Esseghaier, is about to be tried on charges related to a plot to derail a Via Rail train travelling between Toronto and New York two years ago.

Chaoui uses social media to share his fundamentalist interpretation of Islam. He has posted his view on YouTube and Facebook.

On his Facebook page, Chaoui says he plans to respond to the borough’s decision publicly, but doesn't give details.