The Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) has ordered three members of Lev Tahor held in custody pending deportation to Israel.
The three were part of a group of five arrested at the Lev Tahor community outside Chatham, Ont. Two of the five were released prior to the April 4 hearing. Two others weren’t present when 20 agents of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), Chatham police and representatives of the Chatham-Kent Child Protection Services raided the community last week.
The IRB ordered Yochanan Lavar, 19, a father of three, removed on April 10. The others are Avraham Kabaz Kashani, 39, and Odel Malka, 30. Removal dates have not yet been set for them.
Guidy Mamann, who represented the three at the hearing, said there is likely nothing that can be done to prevent the removals. However, he said a “global” solution was needed to address the immigration status of the other members of Lev Tahor, the ultra-Orthodox community that moved from Quebec to Ontario last November.
“We have to recognize that we have a community here. They have huge families. Their children are Canadian citizens.”
Mamann has been retained to help sort out and consolidate the defence of Lev Tahor members on a number of legal fronts, including immigration issues and allegations of child abuse and neglect. He was scheduled to travel to Windsor earlier this week with two Lev Tahor members who also face immigration issues. Discussions will begin with CBSA but ultimately a decision on the members’ status will have to be made by the immigration ministry, he said.
The Lev Tahor members entered the country legally, pose no dangers to the Canadian public and should be allowed to remain on compassionate grounds, he said.
Mamann said he is putting together a defence team to address allegations of child neglect, none of which have been proven in court.
“My goal is to see parents reunited with their children,” said Mamann.
“You see a Jewish kid taken from their parents and it hurts.”
Last week, an Ontario court heard a Lev Tahor appeal from a decision that enforced a Quebec court order to apprehend and place into care 14 Lev Tahor children. That case was set to resume on Wednesday of this week.
In yet another development, a 17-year-old member of the community who had been apprehended with her infant in Calgary and placed with a Toronto family, was released. Her baby remained in foster care.
“I left to Calgary with my baby with the sole purpose of saving my baby from being a life orphan for no reason,” she stated in a public email. “The [Children’s Aid Society] is worried that this point will be used against them… in court, so they chose to release me 12 hours before the hearing starts.”
About 250 members of Lev Tahor left Quebec late last year in the midst of an investigation by the province’s child protection authorities into allegations of child abuse and substandard education. A Quebec court subsequently ordered 14 children from a number of Lev Tahor families removed and placed with foster parents.
To date, Lev Tahor members have been represented by a number of lawyers on an ad hoc basis.
“What is lacking here is a clear direction and co-ordination,” Mamann said. “Lev Tahor members are so overwhelmed they’re frozen where they are and can’t make any decisions.”
Previous lawyers did not receive proper instructions, and the Lev Tahor members “let immigration issues slide.”
Their financial resources are also drained.
“It’s a holy mess,” said Mamann.
Going on the offensive, Mamann accused law enforcement and immigration officials of acting in a “disproportionate” and “backhanded” manner.
“This is a group that’s pretty benign. Out of 200 people, seven had immigration problems, and all could have been fixed pretty well.”
Mamann said the raid coincided with a meeting in Toronto between Lev Tahor representatives and immigration authorities that was meant to resolve the issues. He questioned the timing of the raid, suggesting it was meant to further disorient the group before the court hearing, Mamann said.
Lev Tahor spokesman Nachman Helbrans said he was angry at the arrests. “It is outrageous that while 200,000 persons are officially known to be undocumented in Toronto area alone, the CBSA found it necessary to make a community-wide raid with extensive forces when it was not any suspicion of a crime or wrongdoing,” he said.
Mamann said that given the apprehension of 14 kids, the constant unannounced visit by child-care workers and the recent raid, the Lev Tahor “children are under tremendous stress. They want to be with their parents, and their parents want them back.”
He said one family was separated after being returned from Trinidad. They had been en route to Guatemala, where another Lev Tahor family now resides after fleeing there last month ahead of child custody hearings.
When the father “finally saw his child, he was overcome and collapsed.” He’s undergoing medical care because of the strain, Mamann added.
Mamann questioned why the CBSA would use its limited resources to go after Lev Tahor members who pose no threat to the public when there could be as many as one million undocumented people living in Canada.
Mamann was particularly scathing in denouncing Denis Baraby, the director of Quebec’s department of youth protection for the Laurentians region. Baraby told the Gazette in Montreal that he would ask for the removal of all children in the Lev Tahor community.
“I think the community is preparing a mass move,” he told the Gazette. “If we want to protect the children that are in the community, we need to start working on the exit of the 114 other children.”
“It’s pure madness,” said Mamann.
If there are serious allegations against a particular parent, then the individual case should be dealt with, he said, but to threaten apprehension of an entire community’s children is unprecedented.
“I’ve never seen that in western civilization,” Mamann added.
“Quebec is determined to impose its might in this case, and it’s not coming from child-protection principles.”
He was also critical of Jewish community leaders who have accepted at face value the allegations of child abuse directed at a few Lev Tahor parents. None of those allegations have been proven in court, and he questioned why allegations against a few should tarnish the reputation of an entire community.
Lev Tahor families are under constant scrutiny by child-welfare authorities, now in Ontario and previously in Quebec, he continued.
Child welfare officers intrude into Lev Tahor family’s homes on a daily basis. They photograph the cupboards and refrigerators, seeing how much food they hold.
“Nothing seems to satisfy them.”
He said he wanted Quebec authorities to explain “how many times did you visit the Lev Tahor homes and subject children to physical body inspections, where they are standing completely undressed before [Children’s Aid] staff? The numbers told to me by Lev Tahor community are shocking, absolutely shocking.”
“You can’t live like that. That is the issue,” he added.