Nine members of the haredi Lev Tahor cult, most of them children, refused to be returned to Canada from Trinidad and Tobago. The group illegally fled Canada last week and was heading for a new hideout in Guatemala. Meanwhile, experts warn that Lev Tahor children will have a difficult time adapting to life outside their abusive cult – even though they will be placed with hasidic families who are theologically close to Lev Tahor.
File photo: Unidentified Lev Tahor girls
Jewish sect refuses to leave
By NALINEE SEELAL and JADA LOUTOO • Trinidad and Tobago's Newsday
Nine members of the Lev Tahor Hasidic Jewish religious group led by Avraham Dinkel, who were rejected entry by Immigration officials on Monday night at the Piarco airport were yesterday coaxed to take up residency at the Piarco International Hotel until they could be returned to Canada.
Newsday understands that the group spent all of Monday night, Tuesday and Wednesday at Piarco International Airport after refusing to stay at a hotel of their choice until arrangements were made to have them returned to Canada.
According to sources, just before midday yesterday they booked a room at the Piarco International Hotel and asked that they not be disturbed by any media wanting to interview them. They also asked for full privacy until they could decide their next move.
Local lawyers representing the group sought a writ of habeas corpus on Wednesday which was was denied by Justice Vasheist Kokaram yesterday following a court hearing at the Hall of Justice, Port-of-Spain.
Kokaram noted the writ filed contained several procedural defects. He expressed concern that the group contained six minors, ranging from the ages of nine and a half to 16 years, none of whom appeared to speak English and no evidence was provided as to their link to the three adults who were also rejected entry into this country.
The judge also questioned the group’s purpose for leaving Canada for Guatemala. “What is troubling is that there are no details regarding the legitimacy of their travel. No nexus between the adults and the children. Why are they here in the first place?” he asked, before dismissing the application.
The nine — whose nationalities are American, Canadian and Israeli — were represented by Paul Issac and Sanjeev Lalla while Eduardo Martinez and Farai Masaisai. Newsday was told officers of the National Operations Centre (NOC) have been liasing with the group to coax them into boarding a flight to Canada, but members of the group continue to refuse the offer. The group who were questioned on Monday by Immigration authorities on their arrival to this country following their applications for admission, whilst in transit to Guatemala out Port of Origin, Toronto, Canada.
Their stated intent was to continue on to Guatemala. They claimed that their original flight to Mexico from Toronto did not occur, and were advised by a friend of Dinkel to travel to Trinidad, en route to Guatemala.
Dinkel , an elder of Moroccan extraction and a US citizen were subsequently interviewed by Immigration authorities and questioned in a friendly and courteous manner, relative to their intent, purpose and reasons for leaving Canada and coming to Trinidad, well placed sources revealed.
Dinkel proved to be very evasive and in control of the group and their spokesperson, even though there were others who spoke English, a source said yesterday. Dinkel was insistent that he and the group did not want to return to Canada. He stated that they were being persecuted in Canada and were bombarded by media hounding.
A source added that every effort was made in a most humane and dignified manner to facilitate their stay, and the airline representatives and Immigration authorities allowed approval for the group to stay at a hotel of their choice, pending a decision pertaining to their departure. “They refused to leave the airport unless they had their passports, which remained in the possession of Immigration authorities, as a standing protocol in matters of this nature,” the source added.
Dinkel and followers retained an attorney from Hove and Associates (Port-of-Spain) Farah Masai, to represent them in this matter at the airport. Sources also revealed that at no point did they declare that they were under investigations and the subject of Canadian interest by legal authorities, even though extensive questions were posed to them, they denied all.
They were also advised and cautioned on the international obligations of the Government of TT by the Immigration authorities, and specifically on the Conventions on the Rights of the Child. The group despite all efforts from the Trinidad and Tobago authorities and the West Jet representatives to accommodate and ensure their safety prior to them returning to Canada, has continued to refuse the offers.
Last November members of the group fled to a town near Windsor, Ontario, Montreal’s CBC news reported. The report said two families were scheduled to appear in a Chatham-Kernt, Ontario court to learn the results of their appeal of an earlier court judgment that 14 children from the sect must be returned to Quebec and placed in foster care.
Commenting on the matter yesterday at the post-Cabinet news conference, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar said: “I have not had sight of the letter (filed by the group’s lawyer) but I am aware of part of the incidents. The Minister (Gary Griffith) will answer with respect to the immigration and so on.
“As far as I know, the lawyers have filed what is known as a habeas corpus. If the matter is before the court, the matter is subjudice. It will not be prudent for us to comment yay or nea on the matter, as the matter is pending in court. Persad-Bissessar advised National Security Minister Gary Griffith, who was sitting close by to “exercise caution” in his response. Griffith said: “It is quite obvious we can’t say much more.
What I can assure you is that the Immigration Department was very professional in the performance of their duties.” He added that Government is currently liasing with the Canadian authorities on the matter.
Meanwhile, experts warn that Lev Tahor children will have a difficult time adapting to life outside their abusive cult – even though they will be placed with hasidic families who are theologically close to Lev Tahor:
Once removed, caring for children of Lev Tahor will be no easy task
Jason Magder • The Montreal Gazette
Members of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect Lev Tahor fled the country this week with 13 children, days before they were to have appealed a judgment ordering them into foster care.
The children, ranging in age from six months to 15 years, were to have appeared in court Wednesday in Chatham-Kent, Ont., to appeal a Feb. 3 order validating a Nov. 27 Quebec court ruling that the children be removed from the community and placed in foster care. That ruling was made after most members of the community had already left their Ste-Agathe-des-Monts homes for Chatham-Kent.
This week, six of the children were found in Guatemala in Central America, another six turned up in Trinidad and Tobago, in the Caribbean, while the baby is believed to be with her parents somewhere in New York state.
The children remained out of the country on Friday, despite a court order for them to return to Canada to be placed in the custody of Child Welfare Services in Ontario.
On Friday, the adults accompanying the children in Trinidad appealed that country’s decision to deny them entry.
Although appeals may delay the process, the children will likely return to Canada in the coming days or weeks, where they have been ordered into foster homes in Ontario until the cancelled appeal can be heard next month. If the appeal of the Feb. 3 order stands, they’ll be sent back to Quebec, where foster families in and around Montreal have been identified.
But caring for the children will be no easy task, said Mendy Marcus, a product of the foster care system.
Marcus, 20, grew up in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish home as the youngest boy in a family of 12 children. At age 9, he and his siblings were removed from their home in Boisbriand, north of Montreal, because their father was physically abusive. Even though he was no longer in his care, his religious father continued to exert control over his life, including his schooling and the foster families he was placed with. Youth protection officials granted his father’s request that Mendy, then 11, and his older brother be sent from Montreal to live with the Lev Tahor community in the home of one of its leaders, Uriel Goldman in Ste-Agathe-des-Monts.
His brother remains with the community today, is married and has a son. Marcus said he feels for all the children in the community, and would like child protection services to remove them all, including his nephew. Quebec’s Department of Youth Protection has said it is working with its Ontario counterparts to remove all 127 children from Lev Tahor.
Marcus said the road ahead for the 13 children ordered to live with foster families will be a difficult one.
“They’re all under the impression that if they are placed in foster care, it’s like they’re put in a house with Nazis,” he said. “All other Jewish communities aren’t doing it right. According to the (Lev Tahor) community, everyone else is going to hell.”
He said as long as the children remain in contact with their families and the Lev Tahor sect, they won’t be able to adjust to a normal life.
Mike Kropveld, the executive director of Info-cult, a non-profit charitable organization, agreed it will be emotionally difficult for the children to leave the community.
The Trinidad Express adds to the local reporting:
Jews appeal order: under lockdown
ATTORNEYS representing the nine members of an orthodox Hasidic Jewish group, who were denied travel to Guatemala when they entered Trinidad and Tobago on Monday, have appealed their Immigration rejection order.
The group are currently staying at the Piarco International Hotel, which is under heavy security, while they await a decision on the appeal.
The front door to the hotel has been locked.
Persons arriving at the hotel are questioned by security.
Attorney General Anand Ramlogan yesterday confirmed the appeal and expressed confidence the Chief Immigration Officer would deal with the matter “expeditiously”.
Ramlogan however expressed “extreme concern” a child protection order is currently being breached in the matter.
On Monday, around 5 a.m., nine members of Lev Tahor arrived in Trinidad on board a WestJet flight.
The group, consisting of six children and three adults, were in transit to Guatemala, through Trinidad and Tobago, from Toronto, Canada, when they arrived at Piarco International Airport.
When Immigration officials interviewed the group, “inconsistencies in their responses” were discovered.
The group was rejected and advised of their inability to travel to Guatemala.
They refused to return to Canada.
Local attorney Farai Hove Masaisai, who specialises in immigration cases, was contacted on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, Masaisai filed an application for habeas corpus.
Justice Vashiest Kokaram heard the application on an “emergency basis” on Thursday and dismissed the application.
Speaking to the Express yesterday, Masaisai said while he was not successful in the application before Kokaram, the situation turned out favourable as he was able to meet with his clients.
Masaisai said Avrohom Dinkel, the group’s spokesman, expressed pleasure in being able to see him.
Dinkel, 22, is the only member of the group who speaks English fluently.
He is the only Canadian citizen among the group.
The other members of the group speak Yiddish.
The group has slammed the actions of this country’s Immigration.
“We all cry out to the public in Trinidad and Tobago not to give a hand for religious persecution against innocent girls, boys, mothers and fathers,” correspondence from a member of Lev Tahor stated.
In an interview on Thursday night with TV6 reporter Mark Bassant, Dinkel said the actions by local authorities are political and religious persecution because this country does not want to affect its relationship with Canada.
He claimed the group is not receiving the proper food nor the proper equipment to prepare food, especially as it prepares to observe the Sabbath (on Saturday).
“The authorities are purposely trying to break our morale to make us go back to Canada,” he said.
Dinkle said allegations against the group (in Canada) are false and “anti-Semitic” and people have an agenda, adding “a lot going on behind the scenes” was not being reported in the Canadian media.
Masaisai said the group was only shown the rejection order on Thursday night, during his visit to the Piarco International Hotel.
Masaisai yesterday said this was the longest he has ever seen a situation like this take to be resolved.
The situation has “spiralled out of control”, Masaisai said.
He yesterday called on due process to be taken, with the utmost urgency.
Masaisai served a notice of appeal to the Lev Tahor rejection order to the Chief Immigration Officer yesterday morning.
Because the appeal has been lodged, the Lev Tahor nine cannot be deported without a special enquiry being held first.
Ramlogan expressed confidence the matter will be dealt with “expeditiously”, adding the Chief Immigration Officer has sought legal advice on the matter.
“The group is being treated well and we are ensuring they are treated in a humane and decent manner, pending the determination of the appeal,” Ramlogan said.
Ramlogan said the Central Authority Unit has been liaising with its counterpart in Canada and has been advised the children are the subject of a child protection order in the province of Quebec in Canada.
The order awarded custody of the children to the Department of Child Protection in Quebec.
That decision was appealed.
The Court of Appeal of Ontario yesterday dismissed the appeal and confirmed the court order.
Ramlogan said the allegations are quite serious and the welfare of the children is of “paramount importance”.