A Chabad rabbi who worked for years in Winnipeg remains in hiding after police issued a warrant for his arrest on eight sex-related charges.
Rabbi Yacov Simmonds, 42, who’s worked as a fundraiser for Chabad-Lubavitch of Winnipeg and its Jewish Learning Centre for 16 years, fled the city last fall, when he was charged with three counts of sexual assault, three counts of sexual interference and two counts of invitation to sexual touching.
The crimes are alleged to have occurred between 1993 and 1999. The Winnipeg Free Press quoted a source as saying the complainants are three females.
Police believe he is in hiding in the United States.
The warrant for Rabbi Simmonds’ arrest was issued in October, said Winnipeg Police Service spokesperson Const. Jay Murray. He told The CJN that he doesn’t know whether the rabbi fled before or after the charges were filed.
In either case, “we believe he’s in the U.S.,” Murray said.
Rabbi Simmonds “is aware of the warrant and is actively evading police,” Winnipeg police said in a statement to The CJN.
Police released the information only recently, in response to media inquiries, Murray added. Both the CBC and the Free Press ran stories on Simmonds on Feb. 20.
Six days later, Chabad-Lubavitch of Winnipeg issued a statement stressing that the charges “allegedly occurred prior to Rabbi Simmonds’ engagement with the centre.”
The matter was brought to Chabad’s attention in January 2016, “after which the centre concluded an agreement to terminate Rabbi Simmonds’ employment,” the statement added.
Rabbi Avrohom Altein, executive director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Winnipeg, told The CJN that he believes Rabbi Simmonds’ family is also in the United States and although he doesn’t know where Rabbi Simmonds is, “He’s not in touch with anybody (in the Chabad movement). That I know for a fact.”
As soon as Chabad found out about the allegations, “we let him go not because we have evidence, but because we didn’t want to have anything that would taint us,” Rabbi Altein said.
Until we can feel absolutely certain that a person is innocent, they can’t represent our organization.
– Rabbi Avrohom Altein
Rabbi Simmonds’ association with Chabad was ended in March 2016 and his termination was finalized the following May, Rabbi Altein pointed out.
Chabad paid Rabbi Simmonds a severance “and that was it,” Rabbi Altein said.
Rabbi Simmonds then stayed in Winnipeg “and did a bit of business sales on his own.”
Local media reported that Rabbi Simmonds’ departure was announced on Chabad Winnipeg’s website in August 2016.
“Rabbi Yacov Simmonds is currently embarking on a career change; by mutual agreement he is no longer part of the rabbinical staff or administration of Chabad-Lubavitch of Winnipeg. The organization expressed its gratitude for Simmonds’ years of service,” the announcement reportedly said.
In dismissing Rabbi Simmonds, Rabbi Altein said he operates under a different system than standard legal procedure, in which a person is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
“My situation is the opposite,” he said. “Until we can feel absolutely certain that a person is innocent, they can’t represent our organization or represent Yiddishkeit.”
Rabbi Simmonds’ brother, Rabbi Avrohom Simmonds, the director of the Chabad Jewish Centre of Regina, did not respond to The CJN’s inquiries.
Motti Seligson – a spokesperson for the global Chabad movement, which is based in New York – said it is up to local and regional Chabad centres to respond “to things that relate to them directly that don’t relate to the entire movement.”
On Feb. 24, Bernie Bellan, editor and publisher of Winnipeg’s Jewish Post & News, wrote a 2,300-word story in which he defended Chabad as “a beacon of light for this community,” and said that the reporting on Rabbi Simmonds had “unfairly besmirched the reputation” of the Jewish Learning Centre.