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Hampstead noise bylaw screams injustice

by A.J. Cordeiro October 11, 2011

The Town of Hampstead, with a population of over 7,000, has become embroiled in controversy over a recent modification to its nuisance by-law.
The bylaw specifically forbids excessive noise on days “when most residents are not working and want peace and tranquility,” said Mayor William Steinberg in a statement on the town’s website.
These days include Labour Day, Canada Day, and Christmas. Recently, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur were added to the list, creating controversy. Hampstead’s population is roughly 85 per cent Jewish.
It is important to note that Hampstead has pointed out that the matter arose over a disgruntled citizen who was denied a construction permit during those days. The resident, Frank Chano, ended up mowing his lawn last Saturday on Yom Kippur to challenge the bylaw. He is now contemplating bringing his case to the Quebec Human Rights Commission.
In a CJAD interview, constitutional lawyer Julius Grey said that instituting a bylaw dictating “when you may or may not mow your lawn based on a religious consideration goes beyond the powers of a municipality.”
Therein lies the essential problem with the bylaw; it sets a dangerous precedent. Religion and government policy have had a long and checkered history, and the public view in recent history has been that they should stay far apart. Would I be prevented from mowing my lawn on Sundays, because it might offend my Christian neighbours? Or on Fridays because of my Muslim neighbours?
Whether the government is federal, provincial or municipal, religion should not be allowed to influence political decisions directly. That line must be clearly defined. A public holiday is a date that every society member shares, regardless of ethnicity, culture, or religion. Municipalities simply should not be placing individual cultures holidays in their public calendar.
But ultimately, is a lawnmower really going to ruin someone’s holiday? To quote Chano from an interview with CTV News, “It’s about them dictating to you when you can work or not work and we’re talking about cutting grass. If everyone starts dictating when we can work because it’s their holiday or when we can eat because it’s something else, where’s it going to end?”
Whether this whole kerfuffle was based on a construction permit or not, he still makes a good point. Holidays, to my understanding, are dates which we as the public are given to do what we wish, whether it be relaxing quietly and reading a book, or getting work done around the house.
Governments and especially municipal councils should not have to regulate matters such as these. Is it really that hard for neighbours to stick their heads over fences and actually speak to their neighbours? Are public security officials actually going to enforce the law?
I think it is also important to extend courtesy to those of other faiths. A buzzing chainsaw, along with the sounds of hammers and drills, do not sound appealing to me on Easter Sunday. Perhaps residents should learn that mutual respect creates a better community, and a better example to society at large.
Perhaps that example would go a long way towards fixing one of the problems caused by the issue. After being sensationalized by many media outlets, much anti-Semitic rhetoric has been bandied about. Simply look through the comment on the pages of media outlets that covered the story. It is definitely disheartening to see xenophobic and racial comments openly being submitted in the public sphere.
One can only hope that in the future, citizens would express reciprocated respect towards other cultures, and that legislators would leave citizens to do what they like on their holidays.

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