Original Translation by Sassy
MONTREAL: Pursuant to the request of ONE MUSLIM EMPLOYEE, the Montreal Transit Society [MTS] approved allocation of a prayer space in its Youville maintenance workshop Department.
Arnaud Stopa | Le Devoir | 2015-02-06
Since Wednesday, rumor has been spreading among the employees working in the subway repairs’ department, as confirmed by the STM Public Relations to Le Devoir newspaper.
Isabelle A. Tremblay – Corporate Advisor to the STM Public Affairs – stated in an email that regardless if the request was made by a religious Muslim, ” NO, this space is not dedicated to a specific religion”.
However, according to Luc St-Hilaire, President of the Montreal Transit Union, the public institution’s statement is contradictory. “[The STM] says the space is open to everyone but should the request be made by a Québécois Catholic, it would first require an initial review.”
A request that would be granted? “It’s a good question, but I was told that since no such request was made, they have no answer.”
In the same email, Mme Tremblay confirmed the STM position. “The request would be studied according to the same criteria as those applied for requests already received.”
“For many years now, there have been individual requests for accommodations”, explains the Union representative, “and they’ve always been accepted. But now, it is a new situation: there will be a dedicated space.”
The new space is located under a stairwell, 5′ wide by 25′ long, according to plans of the premises obtained by Le Devoir. The space will accommodate ‘six people according to various times of the day’ and already has a basin for ritual cleansing. Apparently “no additional costs were incurred by the STM except for the replacement of six neon tubes […] and the removal of a door lock”.
The Youville workshop always had ‘a storage space’, although abandoned for quite a while, that’s been available for people who wish to pray. But for an unknown reason, the space must be moved. “Without doubt, the project has been ongoing for weeks. Maybe they’ll require the former premises?”, says Mr.St-Hilaire.
As of now, the Union is trying to find a way to contest this decision.
For Louis-Philippe Lampron, professor of Law at Laval University, the introduction of one space dedicated to a uni-denominational cult for ecumenical purposes is a good thing since it can be applied towards multiple requests.
This was the case in 2006 for the École de Technologie Supérieure de Montréal when the Human Rights Commission ordered that a ecumenical space be made available for its students following ONE COMPLAINT filed by MUSLIM STUDENTS.
However, “nothing prevents a public institution to make available a prayer space to its employees… inasmuch as it is fair for [all] its employees”…, Lampron says.
On the other hand, the STM bases its decision on the ‘Québec Charter of Human Rights’ and on Courts rulings […] in matters of reasonable accommodations. However, the professor considers that “if the STM agrees to make available such a space to its employees, it does not imply that it is obliged to do so”.
Three criteria must be considered: the cost, if the accommodation interferes with the operations of the company and if the rights of other employees are rightly affected. However, the availability of a basin for ritual cleansing could have lead to refusal of the request. ” [This] would imply, for most companies, the construction of installations.”
According to an employee who wishes to remain anonymous, the announcement of such a set-up is not welcomed in an already difficult workplace climate. Charlie Hebdo front-page covers were predominantly displayed on the company’s posting boards. Angered, some Muslim employees filed a complaint that was acknowledged by the company. Relayed on social media, the decision offended the employees.
Even if the space will be ecumenical, the employee believes that it will be mostly used by Muslims. ” It’s unbearable: they’re setting themselves aside in a reserved area […] although here we are a big family, we want them to stay with us! “.
Mr. St-Hilaire acknowledges the decision is fueling discontent. “You can hear anger. People are calling me to express their displeasure. According to their understanding, there should not be any preferential treatment.” Notwithstanding that the current climate is not helping. According to the employee, his Muslim colleagues “are pleased, but would have preferred to wait so as not to associate the Charlie Hebdo event. It’s one bad coincidence and it will create quite an amalgam. Had it been another time, we could have talked about it and found a common solution. Now, it’s become official. You can’t contest this or else you can lose your job”.
TRANSLATOR’S NOTE: The story is growing bigger every two hours on Québec T.V.
ALL FRENCH NETWORKS ARE NOW TALKING ABOUT THIS. On TVA, on the news.
Louis-Philippe Lampron – Human Rights, freedom of conscience and religion, cultural pluralism and public law, labor law