MONTREAL—Ontario child welfare authorities have taken two children into protective custody from the reclusive Jewish group Lev Tahor, the Toronto Star has learned.
A lawyer for the group has confirmed that officials with the Chatham-Kent Children's Services seized two children from one family last Thursday evening.
Lawyer Chris Knowles said in an email that children who are seized from their families must appear before a judge within five days.
The circumstances around the seizure are not known, but the Toronto Star has been told by a source that the children taken into custody are not connected to a Quebec court ruling last month that 14 children be taken into foster care. A second source said that the children are a brother and sister, around 3 or 4 years of age.
The original case in Quebec targeted children from two Lev Tahor families ranging in age from two months to 16 years. About 40 families from the ultra-orthodox Jewish group fled to Ontario on Nov. 18, a few days before that ruling was handed down. After two weeks of silence, it emerged that Chatham-Kent child welfare authorities had sought a warrant on Dec. 4 to seize all the children. An Ontario Justice of the Peace denied that request. An appeal of that refusal is to be heard on Dec. 23.
Quebec authorities have documented what they say is evidence of neglect, psychological abuse, poor dental and physical health and an education regime run by the community that falls below provincial standards.
Critics of the group say that Lev Tahor's spiritual leader, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, exerts strict control and discipline over his followers. An Israeli parliamentary hearing last month documented cases of physical abuse and said the heretical sect is a dangerous cult.
Nachman Helbrans, son of Shlomo, declined to comment on the specific details of the two children who were removed but said that their religious community is being unfairly targeted.
"We are confident, we are sure there is no abuse in our community, not in the past, not in the current time and not in the future," said Helbrans in a phone interview from Chatham.
He said the group, which is anti-Zionist, is the subject of a smear campaign by Israel and pro-Zionist groups.
Helbrans said they have no plans to flee Ontario.
"We are afraid but there is no way to fight with action resulting from libels and unfair justice by running away. The same people that want to destruct you will do the same libels," said Helbrans. "Now is the time to fight it with all legal venues, to cry out for a fair trial and fair justice that we can have the opportunity to answer."
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