Hasidic Cult That Fled Quebec Decides To Settle In Rural Ontario
The Globe and Mail reports:
An ultra-Orthodox Jewish community of 200 people who had a long-running disagreement with Quebec children-protection officials has abruptly left its base in the Laurentian mountains north of Montreal and relocated after an overnight drive to the Chatham-Kent area in southwestern Ontario.
An anti-Zionist Hasidic group that shuns outsiders, the Lev Tahor made headlines two years ago when Canadian immigration agents intercepted two teenaged girls heading to the community and returned them to Israel under a court order.
Since it settled in 2005 in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, north of Montreal, the community has drawn the attention of provincial officials.
Reached by phone in Chatham, where some already bought houses and others were living at two local motels, a community member said there had been disputes over education curriculum and fears that children would be taken into foster care.
"They're forcing us to learn things that are against our religion, like evolution, like homosexuality," said Uriel Goldman.
Quebec authorities say, however, that their investigation dealt not just with education matters but with concerns that children lived in squalid, isolated conditions and were not taught basic life skills.
"The schooling matter is one issue but not the only. There were important shortcomings, serious negligence," said Denis Baraby, director of Centre jeunesse des Laurentides.
"Their children, even at age 10 or 12, wouldn't be even be able in an emergency to ask for help."
He said officials who visited the community reported overcrowded conditions, children sleeping in urine-soaked beds, schooling done solely in Yiddish, without proper math or language instruction.
The court dates given to the two families was not to take the children away but to obtain a judicial mandate that would enable officials to get social workers to visit regularly and force adults to enroll in parenting classes, Mr. Baraby said.
Mr. Goldman had tried to make compromises, acquiring math and English books to be translated into Yiddish.
However, he said, the community had for the last six months started to look at other places to resettle. They hired a real-estate agent and checked out Ontario municipalities such as Peterborough, Morrisburg and Picton, Mr. Goldman said.
The community decided to move when it heard of the court dates for two of their families last Thursday. During the weekend, they rented coach buses and trucks. "On Monday, the two families were residents of Ontario," Mr. Goldman said.
Most have already moved into Chatham residences while the remainder are waiting at two motels, the Kent and the Super 8.
Chatham-Kent Police Service have been in contact with the group and confirms that they are in the area, said a spokesman, Constable Brian Boulley.
"This matter is a children's aid investigation and the Chatham-Kent police will support the investigation if we are required," he said. "However, at this point it is not a police investigation."
An official for Chatham-Kent Children's Services, Shelley Thibert, said her agency was aware of the Lev Tahor's arrival. "We have been in contact with the authorities in Montreal," she said, declining to comment further.
Mr. Baraby said his agency has been in contact with its Chatham counterpart.
The Lev Tahor came to Canada in 2005, following their spiritual leader, Rabbi Shlomo Elbarnes.
Mr. Elbarnes was convicted in 1994 by a U.S. court of kidnapping a 13-year-old boy studying with him; he fled to Canada in 2001 on a temporary visa In 2005, the Federal Court upheld a decision that granted Mr. Elbarnes refugee status.…
Lev Tahor girls:
Lev Tahor women: