Child protection officials in Quebec were concerned about a mass suicide pact in the Lev Tahor community, according to evidence filed in a Chatham court Tuesday.
Testimony from a Quebec court trial involving members of the controversial Jewish sect sheds light on what life is like inside it for kids, particularly girls, and how more than 150 people fled the province for Ontario last month.
Social workers familiar with the community discuss administration of melatonin to calm the children, fungus resulting from women being forced to wear socks or stockings at all times, and a hectic bus trip from Quebec to Ontario where kids were made to urinate in plastic bags rather than stopping.
Uriel Goldman, spokesman for the Lev Tahor community, calls the allegations false. The group has maintained that it is the victim of a smear campaign by enemies of the anti-Zionist sect.
“If you’re going to take these kids away from this community, how are you respecting their religious rights?” - Chris Knowles
“Every one or two hours there was a stop for about an hour — so the bus was stopping almost 10 times,” said Goldman.
One social worker, who can’t be identified because of a publication ban that prohibits identifying witnesses, said there was concern about the possibility of a collective suicide by the group.
“They know that we are asking for these 14 children to be placed in protection today, so they feel the trap closing,” said the witness. “The exit door, it is a possibility that could be considered.”
The statements were originally made in a Quebec court on Nov. 27, but were entered as an exhibit Monday.
A publication ban is also in place on any information that would identify the children or family members that are the subject of the case. Iain MacKinnon, a lawyer representing the Toronto Star and other media organizations, successfully argued for the media’s inclusion in the hearing and a less restrictive publication ban.
A social worker testified at the Quebec trial that the feet of one of the children were blue from the fungus.
“There was not a toe that was not infected,” she said. “It was based in the toenails, which meant that her nails were very, very thick and her feet very swollen, all blue, and all her toes were infected.”
“We heard about concerns about fungus,” said Goldman. “It’s a very, very minor thing, but because there were some concerns we tried to do more than we needed. We brought a special dermatologist.”
The worker testified that the infection was widespread among women in the community, as they were made to leave their socks on. The worker said a meeting with the community leaders led to a loosening of this restriction.
The documents were entered as evidence in an Ontario hearing that will decide whether and how the province upholds a Quebec court ruling to remove 14 children from three families in the right-wing Orthodox Jewish community.
The group fled Quebec before the ruling. Goldman said the group moved to Ontario because the province’s education laws would allow them to homeschool their children.
Children raised in the sect primarily speak Yiddish and boys receive religious education. Chris Knowles, lawyer for the family, is attempting to get the case dismissed and says it infringes on the members’ Charter rights.
“If you’re going to take these kids away from this community, how are you respecting their religious rights?” said Knowles. “They have rights that are enumerated under that act. The cultural, spiritual rights, and we have to respect those rights.”
The hearing was adjourned until Jan. 10 because one of the children targeted by the court order is also a parent herself and thus will request separate representation from the Office of the Children’s Lawyer.