Children to be removed from Lev Tahor community: Judge

Children to be removed from ultra-Orthodox Jewish community

The Montreal Gazette/February 3, 2014

By Jason Magder

Montreal -- An Ontario judge has decided to uphold a ruling removing 14 children from the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community of Lev Tahor.

The order means the children must be removed from the sect and placed into the custody of foster families in Quebec.

The ruling at the Chatham-Kent Courthouse upholds a Nov. 27 ruling in St-Jérôme by Youth Court Judge Pierre Hamel, who ordered the children be placed in temporary homes for a period of 30 days.

On Monday, Ontario Judge Stephen Fuerth ruled the Quebec Court had jurisdiction in this case, and said not to uphold the decision would "create jurisdictional chaos."

The children were ordered back to Montreal where foster families have already been identified. Fuerth exempted the oldest of the 14 children, a 17-year-old mother of an infant from the judgment.

However, the ruling won't take effect for 30 days, so the families can have a chance to appeal the judgment, Fuerth ruled.

Ahead of the Nov. 27 court date, about 200 members of the 240-person community fled Ste-Agathe-des-Monts for Chatham-Kent. The case has been tied up in Ontario youth court since that time.

The Quebec hearing, which was carried out in the absence of Lev Tahor members, had heard from a witness, a former member of the sect, who said children were hit in the sect's schoolhouse with wire hangers. The witness also described how children were routinely taken away from their parents and placed with other families as a form of punishment.

Social workers from Quebec's Youth Protection Department had also described how one of the children targeted to be removed was married at age 14, two years younger than the minimum legal age in Canada. Social workers also noted fungus on the feet of most of the girls, ostensibly caused from adhering to strictly modesty rules that they always wear socks, stockings and shoes.

Known as the Jewish Taliban, because of the full-body cloaks warn by women and the sect's anti-Zionist ideals, Lev Tahor has been widely criticized as an extremist cult in Israel. Most of the community's members are either born in Israel or Monsey, N.Y. The sect relocated to Ste-Agathe in 2004 after Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans was granted refugee status in Canada. He claimed he would be persecuted in Israel if he returned there.

Francine Campeau, a spokesperson for Quebec's Youth Protection Department, said she was pleased with the ruling.

"We're happy the judgment was recognized, but we continue to be concerned for the children while they remain with their families," Campeau said.

A spokesperson for Montreal's Jewish community said back in November that several families came forward to act as foster homes for the children. The families are from ultra-Orthodox communities in and around Montreal, and they speak Yiddish, which is essential since Yiddish is the predominant language used in Lev Tahor.

"We welcome the ruling itself," said David Ouellette, the public affairs director at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said the community is anxious to help. "This is the course of justice. They have the right to appeal. That can't be denied to them."

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