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Montreal cabbie fighting fines for Jewish artifacts

TORONTO (JTA) — A Montreal taxi driver is fighting fines for having Jewish artifacts in his cab.

Arieh Perecowicz has received six tickets totaling $1,400  from the Bureau du Taxi, a municipal agency whose inspectors ordered the cabbie to remove the offending items. He is scheduled to be in municipal court next week to argue that the authorities are violating his rights to freedom of expression under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Perecowicz, 65, told the Canadian media that he is not especially religious, but is comforted by having articles of his Jewish faith in the car, including photos of the late Lubavitcher rebbe and two mezuzahs affixed to the car frame between the front and back doors. His dashboard also displays photos of his wife and daughter, as well as a small Canadian and an Israeli flag.

"In 43 years, no one has said they were offended or opened the door to take another taxi," he told the Globe and Mail. "I am secular but I do have roots and a culture. These items mean something to me, and that’s why I’ve always had them in my car."

Perecowicz is being prosecuted under a section of Montreal’s taxi bylaw that says drivers may not have objects or inscriptions in their cabs that are "not required for the taxi to be in service." He claims he began receiving tickets only after speaking out in the media in 2006 to complain that the taxi bureau was failing to crack down on unlicensed cabs.

Perecowicz cannot afford a lawyer and is representing himself in court. But he has been given support by the Quebec Jewish Congress, which says the case is an important test of rights.

 "This is an issue of freedom of religious expression," Abby Shawn, a human rights lawyer with the congress, told the Globe and Mail. "This is the only case we know of where the taxi bureau has requested a taxi driver to remove his religious icons. It [the bylaw] has been applied in a very discriminatory fashion."
 

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