Five Lev Tahor youngsters who were returned to Canada from Trinidad were hospitalized last week as a result of a hunger strike, according to a member of the ultra-Orthodox community.
The “five kids” are refusing to eat “until they are reunited with their beloved parents,” said Miriam Helbrans, a mother of three who lives in the community.
Helbrans, the daughter of the group’s rabbinic leader, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, said two children were taken by ambulance to hospital from a north Toronto home where they had been placed by child welfare authorities.
The five were part of a group of youngsters apprehended in Trinidad and flown back to Toronto. They were fleeing a Quebec court order, enforced by an Ontario judge, which ordered them removed from their families over fear they could come to harm.
In Guatemala, another group – two parents and their six children – have reportedly applied for refugee status.
And in another development, an Ontario court agreed to release documents that had been under a publication ban. The documents include allegations of sexual abuse, beatings with crowbars, belts, whips and a coat hanger, as well as removal of children from their parents as a disciplinary measure. None of the allegations have been proved in court.
Six children – four from one family, two from another – along with the adults accompanying them were brought back to Canada from Trinidad on an official government jet, said Uriel Goldman, a spokesman for Lev Tahor.
According to a CBC report, Trinidad Attorney General Anand Ramlogan said the youngsters were detained when authorities learned they were not traveling with their parents and authorities were concerned over human trafficking, child prostitution and other factors.
However, Nachman Helbrans, another spokesman for Lev Tahor, said four of the children stopped in Trinidad were with their parents and the other two were travelling to Guatemala to join their parents. The parents, American by nationality, appeared at the U.S. Embassy to ask that their children be sent to them.
Meanwhile, CBC News reported that Canadian authorities had asked the Guatemalan government to help locate the Lev Tahor family. They are reportedly staying in the tourist town of Panajachel, a few hours west of Guatemala City.
Another Lev Tahor member, a 17-year-old girl, was apprehended in a motel in Calgary with her baby, and flown back to Toronto. “We know she’s in Toronto in one house, and the baby is in another house, five minutes away,” Goldman said.
Goldman said the flights from Trinidad and Calgary were both on Shabbat. “Why not respect the religion?” he asked, “It’s Canada, not [North] Korea. They don’t know it’s Shabbat?”
Goldman said Lev Tahor is being subjected to “psychological warfare.”
“For no justification [child welfare authorities] come every day on fishing expeditions. That’s what they’re doing for the last two years,” he said.
“It’s lies, fear. It’s just a tactic to break the family. Any family in the world, if they watch them for two years, they’d find a case.
“We’re human beings, not robots. Sometimes we make a mistake,” Goldman said.
Earlier, Denis Baraby, director of Quebec’s department of youth protection for the Laurentians region, said he would ask for the removal of all children in the Lev Tahor community, which number some 250 individuals.
“I think the community is preparing a mass move,” he told the Gazette in Montreal. “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.”
Baraby also said police and Crown prosecutors were preparing criminal charges against the guardians of the children who took them out of the country, the Gazette reported.
Goldman said “those people who left, I cannot talk on their behalf.” But non-Lev Tahor members have told him they understand why parents would flee rather than lose their children.
The allegations against them are not true and there are no substantiated allegations against the rest of the community that would warrant the removal of all their children, he maintained.
Goldman said Quebec child welfare authorities want to destroy the community. Speaking in their voice, he said, “you cannot run away. We have to get you down.
Your children are not sleeping at night because they’re afraid. Who cares? They’re just dirty Jews.
“This is normal?” he asked. “This is hate.”
“We feel exactly like 1939 Berlin.”
The Lev Tahor case is being watched around the world. One observer is former Montrealer Bernard Fryshman. A professor of physics at the New York Institute of Technology, Fryshman said he has been following the group’s travails ever since its spiritual leader, Rabbi Helbrans, was charged in New York with kidnapping a teenage boy. He called Rabbi Helbrans’ 1994 conviction in the case a miscarriage of justice, since he said the rabbi was trying to protect the boy from abusive parents.
As for the threat that Quebec is considering apprehending all Lev Tahor children, Fryshman said, “This kind of wholesale removal of children is a scary thing. If a child is being abused and you harm the child, that’s what Children’s Aid is for.”
But to remove all the children, “that’s scary. That’s shocking That should arouse all civil liberties groups.”
Fryshman, who is affiliated with the Orthodox Agudah community, said civil rights organizations “should be at the government’s door saying this is not the way a government should behave. These are human rights, fundamental freedoms.
“There’s something scary in a government taking 127 children from a community. There’s no precedent for that in any democratic society.”
He suggested the government of Quebec wants to be seen taking a harsh stand against religious minority.
“They want to set a precedent that they are harsh on religion,” he suggested.
Baraby’s office would not comment on the case.