ST-JÉRÔME — A Quebec Court judge has ordered the removal of 14 children aged 2 months to 16 years from the ultra-Orthodox sect Lev Tahor, to be placed in foster homes.
Judge Pierre Hamel issued the ruling Wednesday night, ordering the children be removed from the community and placed in foster homes immediately, for at least 30 days. He ordered members of the Lev Tahor community to refrain from contacting the children in any way, except for their parents, whose contact will be supervised by youth protection officials. Among the children ordered removed are a 16-year-old girl and her 2-month-old baby.
Each child will be given a full examination by a doctor, and their psychological needs will be assessed. Youth protection officials have alleged extreme neglect and malnutrition, as well as isolation, and a refusal by sect members to adhere to the Quebec curriculum. They claim the children, who are home schooled, are unable to do basic math, and don't understand English or French.
There is a publication ban on evidence presented Wednesday in court.
On Tuesday, a committee in Israel's parliament, the Knesset, heard gruesome details about the conditions in the sect from several former members. The website Behadrey Haredim reported that the hearing was told that children were hit with iron bars, denied food and forced to take psychiatric pills. The committee also heard that the sect achieved compliance by inflicting constant pain, by forcing members to wear shoes smaller than their shoe size. Members also spoke of forced divorce and marriage from the age of 14, involving age gaps,
including a 15-year-old boy marrying a 40-year-old woman, and vice versa. The minimum legal age of marriage in Canada is 16.
Wednesday's ruling followed a petition from Quebec's youth protection officials for an emergency ruling by the court after about 200 of the 240 members of the sect moved from Ste-Agathe-des-Monts to Chatham, Ont., in the early hours of Nov. 18, just before a youth court hearing. The three families of the children involved were ordered to appear in court on Wednesday morning, but they defied that order.
Speaking from Chatham, Uriel Goldman, a director of Lev Tahor, said members would defy the order because the Quebec Court has no jurisdiction in this matter, since the order to appear was issued after the group members moved to Ontario.
"It's a legal argument and they don't have to go there," Goldman said. "When the court papers were filed, it was when these families were already residents of Ontario."
Another member of the sect told The Gazette Tuesday from Ste-Agathe the community members left Quebec because the province's home-schooling regulations are too strict. He denied that there was any neglect suffered by the children. He said the whole ordeal has been orchestrated by authorities in Israel who persecute the group, because it denounces the formation of the state of Israel.
"(The youth protection director) was under tremendous pressure to find something in our houses because he got hundreds of phone calls and faxes from those people who persecute us for nothing," he said.
Denis Baraby, the director of youth protection services for the Laurentians, said extricating the children from Ontario may be tricky, but it's something the agency deals with often.
"Ontario authorities can take this decision now and get an order from a court," Baraby said. "We think there is a high possibility they will return them here."
Baraby said several families from the Jewish community have come forward to offer their homes for the children. The children have specific needs, since most only speak Yiddish and Hebrew.
THE WINDSOR STAR CONTRIBUTED TO THIS REPORT.
© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette
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