Lev Tahor children, parents seek refugee status in Guatemala

The six Lev Tahor children and their parents still missing from Canada have made their way to the Guatemalan lakefront town of Panajachel, according to a local rabbi.

The Toronto Star/March 13, 2014

By Tim Alamenciak

Guatemala City, Guatemala - The six Lev Tahor children and their parents still missing from Canada have made their way to the Guatemalan lakefront town of Panajachel, according to a local rabbi.

The group has also contacted an immigration lawyer and is trying to extend their stay in the country, the Star has learned.

The children, from families of a controversial ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect, have been the focus of an international effort to find them and place them in foster care.

Child protection authorities in Ontario and Quebec are worried about the children after an investigation alleged they were subjected to physical abuse, underage marriage, forced medication and a substandard education.

The sect, led by Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, has denied the allegations, which have not been proven in court.

In November, the sect fled their Quebec homes for Chatham, Ont., in advance of an order calling for the removal of 14 children and placement in foster care for 30 days.

An Ontario judge upheld that decision, ordering the removal of 13 children. One was 17 and not a child under Ontario law.

Last week, Ontario Superior Court Justice Lynda Templeton issued an order to apprehend 14 children after it appeared 12 had been taken by adults in the sect to Trinidad and Tobago.

The group was detained on the island for a period on Saturday before three adults returned to Canada, along with six children who were intercepted by Children’s Services at the airport. Two others — a 17-year-old mother and her infant daughter — were apprehended when they flew to Calgary.

The remaining six children and two adults made it to Guatemala.

Rabbi Shalom Pelman, leader of the local Chabad Lubovitch, a Jewish outreach organization with a house in Guatemala City, said the group contacted an Israeli lawyer but said the lawyer was not likely to take the case.

Pelman said they told the lawyer they were staying by the lake.

Locals in Panajachel told a Star reporter they remember seeing a man dressed in the Hasidic style, common to Lev Tahor, approximately a week ago.

The lakeshore is dotted with small towns and villages. While Panajachel is a popular tourist destination, many other towns are isolated and mainly accessible by boat.

An official in the ministry of foreign affairs in Guatemala, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the group had applied for refugee status.

The ministry of immigration in Guatemala said it had no knowledge of the application, but if one had been filed, they would not be able to discuss it because of confidentiality rules.

Officials at the Canadian Embassy in Guatemala refused to comment when a Toronto Star reporter visited Wednesday. They referred comment to Ottawa’s foreign affairs department, which did not respond.

Justice Templeton will decide Friday whether to release a transcript and other materials from the secret hearing held in a London, Ont., courtroom last week.

Templeton initially decided to exclude media from the proceedings but chose to revisit that decision when it became clear that eight were back in the country.

Lawyers for media outlets, including the Star, argued it was in the public interest to release the transcripts. Lawyers representing Chatham-Kent Children’s Services argued that making the court transcripts public would disrupt any potential police investigation and cause emotional harm to the children.

Documents used to obtain search warrants executed in February in Ontario and Quebec detailed allegations of abuse including confinement, sexual abuse and beatings with crowbars, belts, whips and a coat hanger.

They also describe allegations of psychological control, teenage marriages, intimidation and threats of taking children from their homes if deemed to be breaking the community’s rules.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.

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