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Friday, March 25, 2011

Montreal - Cabbie Can Keep Mezuzah, Picture of Rabbi in Taxi

A Montreal cabbie has won his battle to display religious objects in his taxi, ending a protracted dispute with civic authorities that tested the limits of expression in public spaces.

Arieh Perecowicz reached an out-of-court settlement with city officials that will allow him to drive customers in a decor that includes small Jewish prayer scrolls and a photo of his religious leader.

“This is a huge victory, morally and emotionally,” he said on Thursday.

Mr. Perecowicz found himself obliged to remove the objects, along with a Canadian flag and poppy, after a municipal judge ruled last month that he was violating Montreal’s taxi bylaw. It stipulates cabbies can't have objects in their cabs that are “not necessary for the taxi to be in service.” The judge also rejected Mr. Perecowicz’s claim that his Charter of Rights and Freedoms had been violated.

Mr. Perecowicz pledged to appeal and take the case as far as the Supreme Court.

But in a deal struck with municipal authorities, whose details were disclosed by Mr. Perecowicz late Thursday, the veteran cabbie is agreeing to drop his appeal, and, in exchange, the city will withdraw four outstanding tickets issued against him. Mr. Perecowicz is still on the hook for the four original tickets, along with fines exceeding $1,000, that were at the centre of his court battle.

Aside from his personal legal saga, the fight has also resulted in more breathing room for taxi drivers. The Montreal taxi bureau has issued a new directive telling its inspectors they have to show “tolerance” toward religious objects and refrain from issuing tickets, unless the items pose a risk to passenger safety or are used for proselytizing.

Even then, the cases should be referred to a senior official, the directive says.

Mr. Perecowicz said he has already put the objects at the heart of the dispute back in his cab, though he is still weighing whether to add the Canadian flag and poppy.

“I feel I’ve proven that it’s important to allow people to practise their freedoms of expression and religion, whether it’s in their taxi or their office,” said Mr. Perecowicz, who has been driving a cab since the 1960s. “This is a victory for all Quebeckers.”


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