Citizens, Jesuits to challenge Wal-Mart's plans in Canada under freedom of religion provision

.- A nine-year David-and-Goliath battle, involving Wal-Mart and some Canadian Jesuits, has now become a challenge under the freedom of religion provision of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, says a news release, issued by the Ignatius Jesuit Center of Guelph.

On one side is the world's biggest corporation; on the other side are the Canadian Jesuits and a citizens group, called Residents for Sustainable Development in Guelph.

For the last nine years, Wal-Mart has wanted to build a 135,000-square-foot store in the small but flourishing Ontario town. However, some citizens are not supportive of these plans since the discount department store would be built adjacent to the renowned Ignatius Jesuit Center of Guelph and three historic cemeteries.

The Jesuit Center, established in 1913, is located north of the proposed Wal-Mart, on 600 acres of farmland, wetland, woodland, gardens, naturalized landscapes, and walking trails.

The site also houses a community-shared agriculture program,   an aboriginal sweat lodge complex, several hermitages, and Loyola House, a world-renowned Ignatian retreat house.

The Jesuits and the citizens group argue that the U.S.-based department store, with all of the traffic and noise it would bring with it, would destroy the peacefulness of the area.

While Wal-Mart has been negotiating with these parties and has been ready to start operating in Guelph for years, their plans have been stalled again in a hearing before the Ontario Municipal Board.

More than 65 citizens had shown up to speak to the Ontario Municipal board Aug. 3 and 5 about the Wal-Mart project; the majority voiced their objection.

The board was expected to hear final arguments Aug. 11 and make a decision on the matter. Instead, the board announced that the parties had agreed to adjourn until Sept. 1-2 to allow lawyers to prepare arguments for an unnamed legal issue.

But when Sept. 1 rolled around, Robert Boxma, chair of the municipal board, announced that no arguments would be heard. Instead, the citizens group had decided to challenge the issue based on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The citizens, said Boxma, intend to argue that the board "must have regard for the right of freedom of religion that is protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms."

Charter arguments were not disclosed and will only be heard by the board Oct. 19-21.

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