TORONTO – An Ontario judge ruled that children from a fringe haredi Orthodox sect whose members fled Quebec while the community was being investigated by social services should be returned to that province.
In a ruling Feb. 3, the court upheld a Quebec order to place 13 children from the Lev Tahor sect into temporary foster care, Canadian Press reported. But the judge placed a 30-day stay on the order to give the families time to appeal, according to CP.
The children, who live outside Chatham, Ont., about two hours southwest of Toronto, were ordered into temporary foster care by a Quebec court in November.
Authorities in Quebec, where sect members had lived north of Montreal for several years, said they had evidence of neglect, psychological abuse, poor dental and physical health, and a substandard education regime in the community.
But about 250 sect members fled Quebec to Ontario in November just before the order could be executed.
The 13 children belong to three families. A publication ban prohibits identifying them.
The community denies all allegations and has said it is the victim of a Zionist smear effort.
Last week, Quebec police, with the assistance of local officers, raided two homes in the Lev Tahor community in Ontario. Rabbi Nachman Helbrans, son of sect founder Shlomo Helbrans, said the search may have been an attempt to find evidence of illegal child marriages.
A former sect member testified in Quebec that he had personally witnessed seven underage marriages.
In an unrelated development, also last week, a mother from the group who had two of her children, both under five, removed for five days and returned, sent an open letter to media outlets decrying harassment by authorities.
The children were removed when a mark identified by child welfare authorities as a bruise was noticed on one child’s face. The mother of three, who can’t be identified, says the mark was made by permanent marker.
That case was adjourned until April.