TORONTO — The two remaining Lev Tahor children being held in foster care in Toronto have been reunited with their father in the United States.
The two girls, 15- and 17-year-old American citizens, fled their foster family and took a bus to Niagara Falls before being stopped at the border and placed in the care of Children’s Services Niagara County.
Their case came before a U.S. court, but the children were returned to their father after local child welfare authorities withdrew their application to hold them. They did so even after receiving a dossier containing all the allegations against Lev Tahor, said Guidy Mamann, a lawyer representing members of the group.
The fact that American child welfare authorities declined to argue the case before a judge, even after viewing a broad set of allegations against Lev Tahor, demonstrates how weak the case is, Mamann suggested.
“Maybe in Canada children’s authorities can get away with that nonsense, holding kids without evidence. But that doesn’t fly in the United States,” he said.
The girls were the last two of 14 children ordered apprehended by Canadian authorities in Ontario. The others had been released.
According to La Presse, five children from another Lev Tahor family have spent the last 13 months under foster care with a chassidic family in Montreal.
Lev Tahor’s legal saga began in earnest in Quebec in November 2013 when several families with 14 children skipped a meeting with local child welfare authorities. The meeting concerned the parents’ refusal to educate their children in Quebec schools or to teach them the theory of evolution or sex education, Mamann said.
They and about 225 members of the ultra-Orthodox group moved to Chatham, Ont., where they hoped to home-school their children and avoid the requirements of the Quebec education system. They quickly came to the attention of Chatham-Kent Children’s Services.
Meanwhile, a Quebec court ordered the 14 Lev Tahor children apprehended. An Ontario court upheld the order but another court subsequently overturned it.
In the meantime, the family of the two girls left for Guatemala. When the plane they were on was full, the parents booked the teenage girls on a separate flight that went through Trinidad and Tobago. They were stopped in the Caribbean country and returned to Ontario.
Their parents and siblings ended up in Guatemala, Mamann said.
Returned to Toronto, the girls were placed with an Orthodox Jewish family last March, but they always wanted to be reunited with their family. They fled for Niagara Falls on Friday Sept. 12. “They dodged a private security detail” that was guarding them before boarding the bus for Niagara, Mamann said.
That Friday, Mamann received a phone call from U.S. immigration officials, saying the girls were at the border seeking entry into the United States. An American lawyer was present on the U.S. side, and after Maimann briefed the officer, the girls were released into the U.S. lawyer’s custody. They spent Shabbat with her and the next three or four days with a local Jewish family while their case was being prepared, Mamann said.
Their entry into the United States made sense, Mamann said. “These are two American citizens, children of an American citizen father, seeking entry into the United States."
Asked why Canadian child welfare authorities would want them to remain in foster care, Mamann said “they didn’t trust the father… That’s not the basis of separating children from their parents.”
Children’s Services Niagara County became involved in the case. They were in contact with Chatham-Kent Children’s Services. “They received a large dossier from Canadian children’s aid… with pages of allegations,” Mamann said.
Niagara child welfare personnel interviewed the girls who “clearly wanted to be reunited with their father,” he said.
Based on their interviews and after reviewing the materials, they chose not to request an apprehension order, Mamann said.
U.S. officials were only concerned about specific allegations of abuse. “There needs to be specific evidence of specific neglect versus these specific children. When they applied that, there was nothing,” Mamann said.
After living away from the Lev Tahor community for six months, “the children took it upon themselves to run as far as they could to their parents. That doesn’t speak of abuse,” Mamann said.
Mamann did not know whether the family made their way to Guatemala. They’re Americans in the United States. They’re free to go wherever they want, he said.
Calls to children’s aid services in Niagara and Chatham were not immediately returned.