Lev Tahor won a legal victory in Ontario this week, with a decision on appeal striking down the order for some of the Jewish sect’s children to return to Quebec and be placed in foster care.
Superior Court Justice Lynda Templeton overturned Justice Stephen Fuerth’s Feb. 3 ruling that upheld the Quebec order. As a result, the 14 children subject to the order will not be returned to Quebec, and Chatham-Kent Children’s Services is now in charge of their wellbeing.
Templeton ruled not only that Fuerth erred, but also that returning the children to Quebec would not be in their best interest.
“Even if I were wrong with respect to any or all of the above, I am entirely satisfied that it would be contrary to the best interests of these children to be returned to Quebec. I decline to visit upon the children the consequences of the conduct of their parents,” Templeton wrote.
But she also expressed concern over their wellbeing, based on evidence that included allegations of “suppression or limitation of critical thought in (the sect’s) children” and underage marriage. “These two factors alone are sufficient to cause the court grave concern about the health and welfare of these children and their protection,” she wrote.
Quebec child protection officials have documented allegations of abuse, underage marriage and substandard education. Leaders of the ultra-orthodox Jewish sect have denied all allegations and say they are the victims of a smear campaign.
More than 200 members fled Quebec en masse in November ahead of a ruling placing 14 children in foster care. The case has since been winding its way through the Ontario courts. The process was delayed a month when it was discovered that, on the day an appeal hearing was to be held, some of the children had left the country. Eight were apprehended and placed in foster care, where seven remain pending hearings.
Denis Baraby, director of the Quebec youth protection agency that initiated the case, remains concerned about the welfare of the community’s children. In November he sought apprehension warrants for as many as 114 children in addition to the 14 subject to the court proceeding.
Baraby says the agency has run out of options for getting anything enforced in Ontario. But he has no intention of revoking the Quebec warrants, which have kept some children from getting passports.
“If the parents leave and go to a place like Guatemala, then we just permit the sect to go on. My intent is to keep these warrants active until I’m satisfied that the children are not at risk,” Baraby said.
Queen’s University law professor Nicholas Bala said the decision highlights a gap in the law: “The specific issue in this case is, because of the judge’s ruling, we now have an authoritative view that we don’t have a way of enforcing child welfare orders from another province.”
Stephen Doig, executive director of Chatham-Kent Children’s Services, told the Star he was “surprised” by the ruling but that the agency will respond to any allegations of abuse “just as we would with any other family and their children who reside in Chatham-Kent.”
Guidy Mamann, a Toronto immigration lawyer who has co-ordinated the legal effort for Lev Tahor, was pleased with the decision. “We still have a long way to go, but at least tonight these families are going to enjoy the Passover holidays with some peace in their lives,” he said.
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