Order to return Lev Tahor children to Quebec social services upheld: Ontario court

Watch above: A look inside the Lev Tahor community in Chatham, Ont. (January 2014)

TORONTO – An order to return 13 children from an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community to Quebec will be executed unless an appeal is filed in 30 days, an Ontario court ruled Monday.

The Lev Tahor community had been living in Ste-Agathe-des-Monts in Quebec, but most of the 200 people allegedly left home in the middle of the night on Nov. 18, and moved to Chatham, Ont.

The relocation happened as Quebec social services was carrying out an investigation into members of the community for issues related to their children’s health, hygiene and allegations the children weren’t learning according to the provincial curriculum.

There were claims from Quebec social services that the homes where the children lived were dirty and littered with garbage and that the home-schooled children were incapable of doing basic math. Quebec authorities also claimed many of the children spoke neither French nor English.

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Chatham’s child welfare authorities had asked the Ontario court to enforce the Quebec order to have 14 children placed in foster care, though a lawyer for the families claimed Chatham’s children’s aid society would have to start a child protection investigation of their own to obtain jurisdiction.

Lev Tahor families have now settled in Chatham-Kent, Ontario. Kirk Neff / 16x9

Ontario Court Judge Stephen Fuerth ordered Monday that the children – with the exception of a 17-year-old who is also married and a mother – be returned to Quebec to the care of child welfare there.

The Lev Tahor community denies mistreatment of the children and said they were already planning to move out of Quebec before the investigation was launched by social services.

The judge has put a 30-day stay on the order to give the families a chance to appeal, during which Chatham child protection workers are allowed to randomly visit the community to check on the children.

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Fuerth was critical of the community’s decision to leave Quebec in the middle of the night, which he says was clearly done in haste.

“The unilateral actions of the respondents to flee from Quebec placed these children at further risk of harm and could not be construed as concern for the interests of their children,” he said in his decision.

Who are the Lev Tahor?

The Lev Tahor, which means “pure heart,” came to Canada in 2005 after their spiritual leader, Rabbi Shlomo Elbarnes, was granted refugee status here.

Members of the anti-Zionist group, which opposes Israel and advocates Arab domination in the region, settled in the Laurentian mountains north of Montreal.

Elbarnes made headlines in the United States in 1994 when he was convicted of kidnapping a teenaged boy, who had been studying under him in Brooklyn.

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After serving his sentence, Elbarnes was deported to Israel but later entered Canada on a temporary visa.

A 2005 Federal Court ruling upholding Elbarnes’ refugee status in Canada found he couldn’t be considered safe in Israel, in part because his “religious belief and opinion are against the mere existence of Israel as an independent country.”

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