Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard has said that Sunday's (16 July) referendum in the municipality of Saint-Apollinaire has disappointed him as people voted against a Muslim-run cemetery in the region.

He also said that the government would help Muslims get their own cemetery after the 16 July ballot almost crushed it. "People have rights. It's fundamental to be able to bury your dead," Couillard said in Edmonton city on Tuesday, where he was attending the Council of the Federation meeting with other premiers.

"I don't think it projects a favourable image of Quebec. What I see now is that it's definitely a necessity that our government become involved in finding a solution," he added.

His comments came just days after opponents of the cemetery won by 19 votes.

Under the province's rule, not more than 49 people are allowed to vote in the referendum. But for Sunday's vote, only 36 people turned up, out of which only 16 voted in favour of a zoning change that would allow a Muslim cemetery to be build in a wooded area on the outskirts of the town. Nineteen members opposed it and one rejected the ballot.

The cemetery was proposed by the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre – the site of a shooting that claimed six lives and injured 18 others in January.

"This is not a referendum on whether the garbage should be collected in the morning or in the afternoon. This is an important request," Mohamed Kesri, who was overseeing the project, said, adding that the project could have benefitted thousands but the result has saddened him.

The Islamic centre's president Mohamed Labidi said that he "never thought people could oppose the installation of a cemetery".

"What are they afraid of?" he asked, adding that a number of Muslims and civil-rights advocates across the country have also come out against the voting.

Labidi also said that the outcry may lead to a human rights complaint, the BBC reported.

Couillard said that he doesn't want the Muslim community to have an impression that the province's people or government are not with them. He said that his government would soon sit with the members of the Muslim community to find a solution.

"I remember the thousands in the streets to show solidarity with Muslims. That's Quebec. That's the Quebec we want to see and hear," he added.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said that his government would soon sit with the members of the Muslim community to find a solution - File photo KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images