One night last summer during Ramadan, the suburb of Mascouche dispatched inspectors to a Muslim community centre in search of unlawful activity. They found 20 men praying, and that was enough to declare the building an illegal place of worship. Citing its zoning bylaw, the municipality north of Montreal revoked the centre's operating permit.

The clash, which is now before the courts, was the latest example of a trend that has seen Quebec municipalities use zoning restrictions to thwart the efforts of minority religious communities — primarily Muslims — to establish places of worship. But a court victory this month by another Islamic centre in Montreal contains a warning to municipalities that the tactic can infringe on religious freedoms.

Haroun Bouazzi, co-president of the Association of Muslims and Arabs for a Secular Quebec, says municipal and provincial politicians are failing in their responsibility to counter public suspicions of Islam.

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