Two unidentified Lev Tahor children
The Windsor Star reports:
Quebec and Ontario’s child protection services will ask for the removal of all 127 of the children from the Lev Tahor community, Postmedia News has learned.
The 250-member community moved en masse to Chatham from Ste-Agathe-des-Monts, Que., in November ahead of youth court dates in Quebec. But 13 children were ordered to be placed in foster care in a Feb. 3 judgment that upheld a Nov. 27 ruling in Quebec. Youth protection officials have alleged neglect, child abuse and squalid living conditions.
On Wednesday, when the appeal of the Ontario order was set to be heard in Chatham, it was discovered that all 13 children had left the country.
In an interview Thursday, Denis Baraby, the director of Quebec’s Department of Youth Protection for the Laurentians region, said he’s concerned the group is planning another exodus.
“I think the community is preparing a mass move,” Baraby said. “If we want to protect the children that are in the community, we need to start working on the exit of the 114 other children.”
The judge in Chatham on Wednesday night ordered that the 13 children who’ve left the country be apprehended and returned to Canada, where they’ll be placed in the custody of Chatham-Kent Children’s Services.
On Wednesday morning, a group of nine members of the community were found at the airport in Trinidad and Tobago. They had flown from Toronto and were in the process of buying tickets for a flight to Guatemala, when local authorities intercepted them. Among the nine were six children who had been ordered into foster care. Another six children are already in Guatemala, while a six-month-old baby is with her 17-year-old mother in New York, according to Baraby.
Marcia Hope, director of communications for the Ministry of National Security in Trinidad and Tobago, said three adults and six children were stopped trying to pass through Trinidad on the way to Guatemala. But she bristled at the suggestion her country is detaining the families.
“Detained is a strong word,” Hope said Thursday. “I wouldn’t use the word detained. We follow an international protocol and we are just basically working with the Canadian authorities to sort out how we treat these individuals.”
She said those families have rented hotel rooms.
“They refused our accommodation to put them in a hotel,” Hope said. “They refused and they decided they’re going to retain a lawyer.”
She said those group members are still fighting, through their lawyer, to go to Guatemala.
Lev Tahor leader Uriel Goldman, who has repeatedly said no children are neglected in his community, claimed he didn’t know the families were headed to Guatemala.
He also said he doesn’t know why they chose to go there. Lev Tahor doesn’t have a community in Guatemala, Goldman said.
Lev Tahor says its members are being held there against their will.
“They are holding them for two days with no reason,” Goldman said. “Obviously there is political pressure right now.
“The game against the community is still going on. A lot of political pressure. Someone wants to get this community down. It’s obvious now.”
Canadian authorities are working to bring the children in Trinidad and Guatemala back to Canada. Baraby said police and Crown prosecutors are preparing to lay charges against the guardians of the children who took them out of the country. He said because they defied a court order issued from youth court, they could be charged with kidnapping.
If that happens, the international Hague Convention treaty would make it fairly straightforward for the families to be returned, explained Howard Barza, a Montreal family lawyer. Both Guatemala and Trinidad respect the convention, which secures the prompt return of children wrongfully removed or retained.
As for the 114 children still in Canada, Baraby said authorities need to act quickly.
“We don’t want them all to leave in the middle of the night to go to Guatemala,” he said. “It will be a bit late to act at that point.
“We want a regular surveillance of the community, but my colleagues in Ontario will have to take certain measures in order to give more powers to police to prevent people from leaving.”
A spokesperson for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs said the children will be placed in homes in Toronto while they go through court proceedings. The appeal that was to be held Wednesday has been rescheduled for next month.
“This will be for a short time until the Quebec order (is evaluated by an Ontario judge),” said David Ouellette, director of public affairs for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.
The centre has helped identify families in Montreal that could accommodate the children and their unique needs.
They have strict dietary restrictions, and most speak only Yiddish.
If all the children are ordered by a judge to be removed from the community, Ouellette said there is a plan to welcome them all.
“There is a contingency plan, because this isn’t the first time this possibility has been raised. But I can’t discuss that contingency. Obviously, it would no longer involve families.”
He said the children would be placed somewhere in the Laurentians.