Everything seemed fine when a Chatham-Kent child services worker visited a Lev Tahor family’s house March 1: There were beds unmade, clothes hung up, toys everywhere – not what you’d expect to find in a household preparing to flee, according to court transcripts made public Wednesday.
They’d been living there, renting a rural compound, since leaving Quebec’s Ste-Agathe-des-Monts. The community was under investigation by children’s services in both provinces regarding allegations of child abuse – allegations Lev Tahor has denied and characterized as anti-Semitic persecution.
But on March 4, that family was gone – no lights, no answer at the door, adults in the community reluctant or unwilling to explain their whereabouts. A trio of community leaders, approached by child-service workers, piled into a van and drove away.
IN DEPTH: Lev Tahor
Turns out the families had left the country just before they were supposed to be in court appealing an order to take 14 Lev Tahor children into foster care.
“This is a very carefully thought-out plan in terms of removing these children from this jurisdiction,” the lawyer for Chatham-Kent Children’s Services said in court March 5.
That sudden disappearance sparked a chaotic emergency hearing in the courtroom, now closed to reporters, during which the judge issued an apprehension order for the 14 children.
“I am entirely satisfied that the allegations, although untested before a court, of sexual, physical and emotional harm, and deprivation of the rights of the children to an education are sufficiently grave and serious that intervention of a court is immediately warranted,” the judge said, adding that these children were at risk of suffering emotional or psychological harm.
“The extremely unusual circumstances created solely by the appellants themselves require, as I’ve indicated, immediate intervention of the court,” the judge said. “I have no option, in my view.”
She added she expected that “if these children are returned on a plane, that they will be apprehended at the doors of the plane as soon as it lands.”
That same day, it turns out, authorities in Port of Spain, Trinidad were calling Canadian Border Services about a family at the airport who’d been detained because they had one-way tickets and no explanation for being there.
Those Lev Tahor members have since returned to Canada, with many of the children placed in foster care (the community’s advocates say some are on hunger strike because they want their parents and have been hospitalized; no hospital or children’s aid worker has confirmed this).
Another six children and three adults got permission this week to stay in Guatemala, for now. It isn’t clear what will happen to them or whether they’ll check in at the Canadian embassy as the judge instructed. In the meantime, Canadian authorities say, they’re trying to make good on the apprehension order and bring the children back to Canada.
Media organizations including Global News are fighting in court to have further documents relating to the Quebec Lev Tahor investigation made public.