An article appearing in the Cold Lake Sun this week shows the President of the Islamic Society of Cold Lake being awarded a government grant of $100,000, reporting that this money is to assist in the building of a new mosque there. According to the goverment page regarding these grants, there is a budget of $38 million per year that goes towards projects that enhance the community. Any groups applying must fulfill specific criteria and there is a fund-matching policy in effect (so you must have funds of your own) before being granted money via the Community Facility Enhancement Program.
Many of the first responses to this article were questions about why the government is able to fund a religious group and if this is a violation of our Charter. It’s worth noting that Canada does not have a clear separation of church and state, our Charter only guarantees freedom OF religion. If you’d like a more detailed explaination, check out this article explaining the differences between the US and Canada. Ajaz Quraishi’s group were able to meet the criteria for the CFEP as they fall under the societies act, despite also being tied to a religious group.
The project has been in the works for years and first hit the news in 2010 when councillors voted to allow them to purchase some land at a 90% discount, then rescinded that offer. Eventually the society were granted 2 acres of land at market value ($130,000) in Cold Lake and now plan to use that space to build a community center and a mosque.
I spoke to Ajaz Quraishi directly to get more details and to confirm what the monies will be used for. He has issued a public statement on his own facebook wall explaining the report was incorrect and that the money will in fact go towards a community hall, which will be open for use (presumably rentable space) by the public. The mosque is a separate project although it will still go on the same land. The application for the grant took about 6 months and Ajaz is hoping to have the permits in the next few months so they can start building the community hall. He has no timeline for the mosque as of yet as the group are still raising funds for that project.