Quebec police started probing the Lev Tahor ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect after hearing nearly two years ago of allegations that teen-aged girls were confined in basements and married by force to older men, according to unsealed search-warrant applications. The court documents also allege that children from other countries were brought to the Hasidic community to be married after false reasons were given in the immigration process. Followers were kept under “psychogical control” with medications, and government money given to families was managed by the community leader, the documents say.
The documents are part of applications for search warrants from the Sûreté du Québec. They were unsealed on Friday at the request of several media outlets, including The Globe and Mail. The provincial police executed the warrants last month at homes belonging to members of the Lev Tahor community in Quebec and Ontario. The allegations have not been tested in court.
The community was based in the Laurentians town of Ste-Agathe-des-Monts, north of Montreal, until it moved to the Chatham-Kent area, near Windsor, Ont., last November, citing fears Quebec officials would remove the children. Judges in Quebec and Ontario have ordered 14 of the children placed in temporary foster care because of allegations of neglect and abuse. The judgments are being appealed. The search-warrant filings allege a young woman said she was hit with a belt and a coat hanger and a pregnant 17-year told nurses at a hospital she was beaten by her brother, sexually abused by her father and married by force to a 30-year-old man when she was 15.
Investigators were told children had to drink water mixed with an unknown green powder and that “all kinds of pills” were bought from a pharmacy and given to people without explanation. One man was quoted as saying someone “diagnosed with him a personality disorder and wanted him to take medications. He said that taking medications was compulsory if one disobeyed the community’s orders. He said that [blacked-out name] was beaten with a stick because she was not listening.” Another person also told police about beatings with sticks, crowbars, whips and belts. “He was forced to take pills during meal times three times a day.” That person said he was placed in a family he was not acquainted with when he joined the Lev Tahor. “There was nothing to eat. He had to beg. They all had to shave their hair.”
The witness said he saw a woman struck in the face because she did not want to wear the burqa-like outfit for women that has led Israeli media to call the group the Jewish Taliban. The witness added that “no one could keep money, everything had to be handed to Shlomo,” the document said. The Lev Tahor’s spiritual leader is Rabbi Shlomo Elbarnes, who is also known as Shlomo Helbrans. Mr. Elbarnes, who ran a yeshiva in Brooklyn, pleaded guilty in 1994 to a charge of conspiracy to kidnap after allegations he tried to convert a teenaged boy to his brand of Judaism against the wishes of his parents. He fled to Canada in 2001 on a temporary visa. The next year, the Federal Court upheld a decision that granted him refugee status.
Quebec police began hearing allegations against the community in April, 2012. Girls who were 13 or 14 were disciplined by being held in house basements while girls who were 14 to 15 were married to adult men, the police documents said. Children were also taken from their biological parents if the community leader deemed that they were not taught properly, the document added. “There are about 20-30 children who have changed families. [A person who spoke to authorities] said that some children adapt well and return to their families but that others are upset, cry a lot,” the warrant application says. It refers to a 14-year-old girl who spoke with Quebec child-welfare officials. “She didn’t want to return to the community because she had been betrothed to a man, she’s very scared. She seems very indoctrinated. Community members are very present ... to intimidate the young girl into not talking,” the warrant application said.
Another person, apparently the mother of a community member, told police about “the psychological control that her daughter imposed on the children, telling them there are black angels who will come get them and they will burn in Hell.” After taking statements from some Lev Tahor members, police and child-protection officials visited the community in August, 2013. Denis Baraby, director of Centre jeunesse des Laurentides, had to negotiate for an hour before doors were opened, the court filings say. “During the negotiations between Mr. Baraby and the leaders, police officers at the scene ... noticed a lot of movement between the houses and a man went from house to house with a paper bag in hand. Once officials were finally able to enter inside the houses, women and men there were able right away to produce their identification papers, passports, immigration papers and health cards.”
Last fall, Quebec authorities heard that community members had gone to Ontario in three buses. The bus company told police that it was contacted two days before the move by a man offering to pay cash. The group has said it is persecuted by Quebec authorities. On its website, a post this week said the grand rabbi had remained in Ste-Agathe during the relocation and departed for Chatham, Ont., on Feb. 6. The website links to a video showing Mr. Elbarnes as he left for Ontario, wearing a prayer shawl, holding a Torah and speaking Yiddish. English subtitles have him comparing Quebec police and child welfare officials to notorious Nazi leaders such as Joseph Goebbels and Hermann Goering. “It does not matter what you wear, what uniform you have or medal you earned, no matter if you are policeman, whether you are ‘child protection,’ or a judge ... what difference does it make to the human being, to the human nation if he’s referred to as a judge, a minister or he’s referred to as Dr. Goebbels, or Mr. Goering.”