Quebec police first started hearing the allegations two years ago – of drugged and confined children; corporal punishment, sexual abuse, psychological control, immigration fraud and underage marriage. Social workers found children in piteous states of health.
But it wasn’t until November, 2013 that the Surete du Quebec moved to take some of these children, on a provisional basis, away from the ultra-orthodox haredi Jewish sect, Lev Tahor.
By then, dozens of families had skipped town on a trio of buses bound for Chatham-Kent, Ontario, where they lived in motels and in units of a rural compound called Spurgeon’s Villa (the bus driver, asked to leave at 1 a.m., said it was his policy not to drive at night. But this customer offered to pay cash).
Documents supporting a police warrant to search those homes were released to reporters Friday after multiple media organizations – Global News among them – fought to make them public.
The documents are heavily redacted: Everything from the items seized in the Chatham-Kent search to police reasons for requiring the search, not to mention interviews with dozens of witnesses, have been blacked out.
What remains is a nonetheless nightmarish series of allegations and multiple interactions between members of Lev Tahor and the state – health authorities, child services or police – that appear not to have spurred immediate interventions.
None of the allegations has been proven in court. Lev Tahor’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, has characterized this as “a genocide,” an attack on their religion escalating from a spat over curriculum (Lev Tahor’s children are home-schooled). And while the sect’s lawyer argued Ontario had no jurisdiction in enforcing a Quebec investigation, a judicial order earlier this month would return the children in Chatham-Kent to Quebec.
In a video released this week, Helbrans is shown about to leave St.-Agathe-des-Monts for Chatham. Swaying in a prayer shawl and holding a covered Torah, he speaks in yiddish and, comparing them to Nazi officers, accuses the Quebec authorities of seeking “to destroy us, to obliterate us, to make a genocide on a fact that Jews who go by the old Jewish way that has been passed down from generation to generation, what other choice did we have? We came to Ontario.”
The allegations include lying to Canadian immigration officials to bring young girls into the country to be married, forcibly drugging young children and beatings – with belts, crowbars, sticks, hands – for disobedience. Some young women were kept in basements as punishment, and young children taken away from their parents to be transferred from one family to another, the documents allege. Families said they had no control over their cash.
One 14-year-old told a child protection worker she was terrified of going home for fear she’d be forced to marry. She was hemmed in by community members, the documents allege, there to intimidate her into keeping quiet. Social workers found themselves making lists of malnourished, “deranged” children and young girls raising kids with older men.
In December, 2012, a 17-year-old pregnant woman left the community at Ste-Agathe-Des-Monts in an ambulance. She told nurses at Children’s Hospital she’d been beaten by her brother, sexually abused by her father and married from the age of 15 to a 30-year-old man (a week later, in a recorded interview with an investigator, she didn’t allude to any crimes).