News / Canada

Ontario judge orders removal of 13 children from Lev Tahor

CHATHAM, ONT. — An Ontario court judge has ordered the removal of 13 children from the controversial Orthodox Jewish sect Lev Tahor, upholding a Quebec child protection order issued in November.

One child, who is also a mother, was left out of the judgment because she is now 17 years old.

The order, made Monday afternoon, will not be executed for 30 days in order to give the families a chance to appeal.

Members of the Lev Tahor community, in Ste-Agathe-des-Monts, Que., were under investigation late last year by social services for issues including hygiene, children's health and allegations the children were not learning according to the provincial curriculum.

Child protection authorities in Quebec have documented what they say is evidence of neglect, psychological abuse, poor dental and physical health and a substandard education regime. Three social workers testifying in a Quebec court described a community ridden with foot fungus because of strict limitations that force the women to wear socks at all times.

A former member of the sect testified that the leader, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, exerted strict control over members of the group and had visions of an armed assault that would see the group fending off the Canadian and American militaries.

Members of the sect have maintained that the province of Quebec took issue with its religious education. They have refuted any allegations of abuse or neglect and said child protection workers have visited them daily while they have been in Chatham.

The group left Quebec shortly before a court ordered 14 children removed. More than 150 people packed onto buses and drove south, settling in a group of homes on the outskirts of Chatham. Social workers testified in Quebec that it was a rushed flight, where children were forced to urinate in bags and the bus driver was instructed to not stop or open the doors.

Since its arrival in the small southern Ontario town, the group has jousted with authorities on both the Quebec child protection order and other matters.

Last week Quebec police, with the assistance of Chatham-Kent officers, raided two homes in the Lev Tahor community in Ontario and others in Quebec. Nachman Helbrans, son of Shlomo Helbrans, said the search may have been an attempt to find evidence of illegal child marriages. The former sect member who testified in Quebec said he had personally witnessed seven underage marriages.

Two children, unrelated to the 14 that are the subject of the Quebec order, were temporarily removed from their parents care after social workers discovered a bruise on one child’s face. The mother said it was permanent marker. The children were returned after a court appearance that determined the parents could temporarily care for them as long as they refrain from usi

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