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Blogger wins libel suit brought by Montreal Hasidim

(JTA) – A Montreal blogger was cleared in a libel claim brought by leaders of the city’s Hasidic community.

In clearing Pierre Lacerte, a Quebec Superior Court judge ruled last week that the blogger’s criticism was harsh but he had supported his claims with facts.

Since 2007, Lacerte has used his blog to criticize Hasidim for things such as double-parked cars outside synagogues, illegal construction and private buses using residential streets to pick up members of the community, according to the National Post.

The plaintiffs, a father-and-son team of real estate developers, Michael and Martin Rosenberg, and community spokesman Alex Wezberger, sought $375,000 in damages.

In her ruling, Judge Claude Dallaire said the Rosenbergs and Wezberger were fair targets given their public status in the community.

The plaintiffs claimed that Lacterte’s blog had damaged their reputations and was “stirring up a lot of problems” in Outremont, a Montreal neighborhood where a growing Hasidic population has clashed with their non-Jewish neighbors.

Lacerte had referred to Michael Rosenberg as “a Hasidic nabob,” “ultrareligious extremist” and “fanatic,” and said he “likes to break the law,” the Post reported. Using illustrations, the blogger also highlighted the Hasidim’s unique style of dressing, calling them a “tsunami of men in black.”

Dallaire said Hasidic dress was fair game.

“The Hasidim have an appearance that is different from the other citizens of Outremont, since their religion makes them display certain distinctive symbols, such as the long black coat,” the judge wrote in her Dec. 4 opinion. “We are of the opinion that they cannot display and request this difference, then complain that certain people refer to these distinctive symbols.”

Quebec’s Jewish community has clashed with the provincial government this year over a proposed law that would ban public servants from wearing religious attire such as headscarves and yarmulkes at work, and a government minister’s support for tightening ritual slaughter regulations.

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