Joel Ceausu – The Suburban LJI Reporter
Public holiday decorations are a festive, and for the most part, welcome sight in and around Montreal, as many municipal governments often invite communities to put up symbols of their celebrations on city property, most often a Christmas tree, and in many neighborhoods a menorah as well, as the Jewish festival of Hannukah typically coincides with the Christmas season.
But in Town of Mount Royal, a change to the practice attracted the attention of some long-time residents.
“Up until three years ago when came the Christmas holidays the town had adopted the principle of having Christmas trees lit up in front, and also having the Hannukah menorah,” Hy London told town council in March. “And then three years ago it stopped doing both. Then afterwards, I think it was last year, they brought back the Christmas tree.”
The 45-year TMR resident asked Mayor Peter Malouf if the town could adopt a policy so that “any religious group that has a holiday of some kind would like to put up the symbol that would be accepted so long as the symbol is not dangerous to anybody.”
Malouf said the decision by the town in the past was “to become religiously agnostic in anything, and the Christmas tree is not a religious symbol of any faith” calling it a decoration with lights on it. The mayor said those wanting to celebrate their respective holidays, culture, religion and beliefs “can always do so. The town needs to be very neutral. We need to be very, as I mentioned earlier, agnostic in in our support of religious activities.”
As for allowing symbols other than a Christmas tree, Malouf says it depends. If somebody wants to have a celebration at town hall and have a symbol outside to welcome that, “then that’s another thing because it’s still a one-off event. But actually to start presenting or having public displays of any religious symbols for any religious faiths becomes challenging and difficult, because there are many religious faiths as you know in this world, many of them. I think the decision to remain neutral on that regard was a wise one.”
“I understand your intent,” said London, “but I think the interpretation of a Christmas tree as not a religious symbol is wrong.” London told The Suburban that he spoke with the mayor before the council about the issue and was told it would be looked into and was disappointed with Malouf’s declaration of what a Christmas tree is. “I think it is a religious symbol that is used in the Christian world, and therefore either we adopt it and adopt letting other religions to have a symbol be there, as long as it’s not dangerous to anybody, if they wish or have no symbols. Period. I’m not looking to favour any group over anything.”
Last week The Suburban asked the mayor and TMR’s communications department for clarification on the issue, i.e., if there is a standing policy or by-law in place, or if it is just a declaration of principles that governs the issue of holiday displays at TMR Town Hall. The Suburban did not receive any response before press time.
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