(VIDEO) The Lev Tahor chassidic sect was under investigation by Quebec provincial police as early as April 2012 after authorities received reports of serious allegations, according to documents made public last week.
The documents contain information gathered by the Sûreté du Québec that it cited to apply for search warrants. They were unsealed on Feb. 14 at the request of a consortium of Canadian media outlets, which went to court to have them released. They are heavily censored.
Community members, social workers and unnamed witnesses allege physical, sexual and psychological abuse of minors and women, including confinement and forced marriage of girls. Medications were allegedly forcibly administered to control both children and adults. The allegations were made to the SQ in their interviews with community members, social workers and unnamed witnesses.
There are also allegation that government cheques sent to individual families, as well as other money, was handed over to the group’s leaders, and that underage girls were brought illegally into Canada from other countries to be made to marry older men.
Girls as young as 14 were allegedly forced into marriage, and a punishment for girls’ disobedience was being confined to basements.
Children were sometimes taken from their biological families and placed with other families in the community, if Lev Tahor’s leader, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, felt they weren’t being raised properly.
Other members allege they were beaten with belts, whips, crowbars and a coat hanger.
The warrants were sought to search the homes of Lev Tahor members to obtain “computer files and any related materials” to an infraction, the nature of which was redacted from the documents. The raids were carried out in January, both in Ste-Agathe des Monts, Que., from which most members fled in November, and in Chatham, Ont., where Lev Tahor has resettled. The group had been living in Ste-Agathe for about 12 years.
No charges have to date been laid in connection with the SQ investigation, and the allegations have not been proven in court.
The overnight flight from Ste-Agathe took place just before two families were to appear in youth protection court to face charges of neglecting their 14 children’s health, hygiene and education.
That proceeding went ahead despite their refusal to return to appeal and the court ordered that the children be immediately placed in foster care for 30 days.
A Chatham court upheld that order on Feb. 3. The families have 30 days to appeal, which a leader has said the group intends to do. The group is appealing the St. Jérôme, Que., court’s Nov. 27 order that the children be removed from the families.
Lev Tahor leaders have vehemently denied the allegations or any wrongdoing.
Earlier on Feb. 14, before the documents were released, the sect posted a shadowy video, in which Rabbi Helbrans denies that they have broken any law and insists that all children in the community are well looked after. The only thing Lev Tahor cannot abide by is teaching certain aspects of Quebec’s mandatory school curriculum. In an 18-minute diatribe, he charges that Lev Tahor is the victim of hate and is being persecuted by Quebec authorities.
English subtitles offer a translation of his Yiddish speech, in which he accuses the police, child-protection officials, judges and even politicians of trying to commit “genocide” against the group.
He compares their lot to the persecution of Jews throughout history, including during the Holocaust. He laments that the group was “driven” from the homes and institutions they built up over the years they were in Ste-Agathe.
The video was apparently made on Feb. 6, the day Rabbi Helbrans left Ste-Agathe.