Newly released police documents detail allegations of psychological and physical punishment being used to control children and adults of the controversial ultra-orthodox Jewish sect Lev Tahor.
The documents, which are heavily censored, outline information used to obtain search warrants for properties belonging to the controversial right-wing Jewish orthodox sect in both Ontario and Quebec. The police documents, which have not been proven in court, recount interviews with members of the community, social workers and unnamed witnesses dating back to 2012.
The documents allege that an unidentified member was ordered to hit a woman in the face because she wasn’t complying with an order to wear a burqa-like covering; that a young girl was beaten with a belt and coathanger; and that a 17-year-old pregnant girl was sexually abused by her father, beaten by her brother and married off at age 15.
The document says the 17-year-old girl was “in a psychosis” and incapable of being interviewed after arriving at a children’s hospital, but her injuries were photographed. In a video interview afterwards at the hospital with investigators, the girl makes "no allusion to a crime," the document notes.
A report from social workers notes a 14-year-old girl they interviewed did not want to return to the community out of fear of marriage, and says she was being intimidated to keep her silent.
“She doesn't want to return to the community because she is promised to a man, she is very scared and seems to be very indoctrinated and members of the community are very present (redacted) to intimidate this young girl so that she does not talk,” reads the document.
The documents also allege children were brought to Canada from other countries under a false pretext when they were really being brought for a future marriage.
Other allegations highlight the use of force, intimidation and relocation to other families to keep children and community members in line.
Nachman Helbrans, the son of sect leader Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, said the allegations are the result of a campaign being waged against them by former members.
“Nothing is done by force in our community. Nothing, nothing,” said Helbrans in a phone interview with the Star. “If this is serious allegations, how come in April 2012 they didn't come one time to my house?”
The warrants were sought to obtain “computer files and any related materials as well as anything else pertinent to demonstrate the elements constituting the infraction alleged in the warrant,” according to the materials. The alleged infraction was redacted.
Quebec police, with the assistance of local officers, searched two homes in the sect’s Chatham community in late January. Searches were also conducted on homes in Ste-Agathe-des-Monts that belong to sect members. The warrant and the Information to obtain (ITO) were kept secret by a court-ordered seal. A coalition of media outlets, including the Toronto Star, argued successfully in court for the release of the information.
Sûreté du Quebec, the provincial police force, along with the Quebec child protection authority were permitted to censor the document prior to its release in accordance with privacy laws. The alleged criminal offences to which the search relates were redacted in the process. The items recovered by the search were also censored.
Lev Tahor is a radical right-wing orthodox Jewish sect that has come under public scrutiny over run-ins with child protection authorities in Quebec and Ontario. Its leader, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, is said to exert strict control over sect members and arrange their marriages. Adam Brudzewsky, a former Lev Tahor member, testified that he had personally witnessed seven underage marriages during his time in the community.
Three social workers who testified in Quebec identified an endemic foot fungus among women in the community resulting from a religious proscription against appearing barefoot, meaning they wore socks even while sleeping. They also had concerns of underage marriages, including ones that involved children subject to the child protection order.
The social workers testified at the Quebec hearing that the group’s exit from the province was hasty. They described clothing and medication left behind, suspicions of sleep aids given to kids to calm them down and an order for the bus driver to keep the doors closed for the entire journey, forcing children to urinate in plastic bags.
The sect has refuted any allegations of abuse or wrongdoing. They say the fungus is common among the general population. They insist all the allegations are the result of a campaign being waged against them by their enemies.
On the day the documents were released, the sect published a video in which Helbrans, the group's spiritual leader, alleges Quebec judges, child-protection workers and politicians are waging a “genocide” campaign against Lev Tahor, the reclusive Orthodox Jewish group being targeted by multiple police and social services and investigations.
The group fled Ste-Agathe-des-Monts, where they owned several homes, in advance of a Quebec court order calling for the removal of 14 children from two families of the sect. In a video released by the group Friday, Helbrans delivers an 18-minute speech to a few of the group's followers before bundling himself into vehicle, the last of the more than 200 Lev Tahor members to leave the province of Quebec. It appears to have been recorded on Feb. 6 at about 6:30 p.m.
“The creator knows the truth — that we have not committed in the village a single crime. We did not break any Canadian or Quebec laws,” Helbrans says in the video.
The community's charismatic leader holds particular ire for Quebec Liberal leader Philippe Couillard who, without naming Lev Tahor, said last December: “To those who come here to profit from our freedoms, from our democracy, only to later attack them and ultimately destroy them, we say loud and clear: you are not welcome here and we will fight your, we will hunt you down.”
Helbrans said the message was no different than that coming out of Nazi Germany: that Quebec should be “Judenrein” or clean of Jews.
“When we see clearly that they are going against humanity, that they are persecuting innocent persons and they do not let the true facts faze them . . . what difference does it make if he is referred to as a judge or a minister or he is referred to as (Joseph) Goebbels or Mr. (Hermann) Goering,” Helbrans says, referring respectively to the head of the Nazi propaganda chief and the founder of the Gestapo and deputy to Nazi leader Adolph Hitler.
“Mr. Couillard and other band people . . . want to destroy us, to obliterate us, to make a genocide.”
On Feb. 3, Ontario Court of Justice Judge Stephen Fuerth ruled that 13 of the children should be returned to Quebec and subject to the order from that province. One of the original children, who is also a mother herself, is no longer a child under Ontario law because she is 17 years old.
The judge’s order was stayed for 30 days to allow the sect time to appeal. According to a leader of the sect who did not want to be named, the appeal will be filed Feb. 25.