More than 100 Lev Tahor children have effectively become prisoners of this country as a result of secret court orders that prevent them from obtaining passports and crossing international borders.
Guidy Mamann, an immigration lawyer who is representing the ultra-orthodox Jewish group, said the existence of the judicial orders was discovered when some Canadian-born children were denied passports. Their parents are temporary residents in Canada and would therefore be free to leave the country.
“Some of the families said, ‘You know what, we’re not going to apply for (residency) extensions. This is getting crazy — we just want to go,” Mamann told the Star in a telephone interview. “We’re not talking about running; we’re talking about these families do not have permanent status in Canada — they have temporary status. What is being proposed? That they leave their kids here? It’s crazy.”
The families have been refused access to the court orders. Mamann said one of the families demanded to see the orders, which were obtained in Quebec in November, and was told to file an access to information request.
A spokesperson for the director of youth protection for the Laurentians region of Quebec said the warrants for every single child in the Lev Tahor community were obtained in the days after they fled Quebec for Chatham-Kent, Ont. — a departure that was prompted by a fight over the community’s home-schooling regime as well as an approaching court case that risked seeing 14 children from two families taken into temporary foster care.
“Quebec knows what they’ve issued: they’ve issued warrants for committal, it looks like for every child in the community, but they haven’t told us, nor did they tell the court,” said Mamann.
He said Marnelle Dragila, the family lawyer representing the parents in the recent appeal hearing over an order for the removal of 13 children, was shocked to learn of the widespread orders.
“I think this is very heavy-handed. It doesn’t have anything to do at this point with the protection of children,” said Mamann. “If really every single child in this community needed protection, you’d think Ontario would agree. There’s no way that any child protection authority can claim that every single child, if in Quebec, needs protection, while in Ontario … the protection authorities are not taking a position anywhere near that position.”
Quebec child protection authorities had documented allegations of abuse, underage marriage and poor health among the sect’s children. Chatham-Kent Children’s Services have conducted its own investigations, resulting in one child protection hearing involving two children, one of whom allegedly had a bruise on her face.
But Ontario authorities have primarily focused on executing the original court order relating to the 14 Lev Tahor kids. One of them, a married, 17-year-old mother of one, has since been exempted from the foster-care ruling. In an appeal of an earlier Ontario ruling against Lev Tahor, all 14 of the children were discovered to have fled their homes. Six were picked up at the Trinidad airport and returned to Canada, two were apprehended at the Edmonton airport and another six remain in Guatemala with their parents.
Superior Court Justice Lynda Templeton is slated to rule on the appeal concerning the fate of 13 children on Monday — a ruling that could send those children currently in the custody of foster families back to Quebec.
The secret Quebec court orders against the children of Lev Tahor were revealed by Denis Baraby, whose office initiated the child protection case against the Jewish group.
Baraby sent all of the judicial orders to his counterparts in Ontario hoping they would carry out the warrant.
Baraby would not make himself available for an interview Thursday and his spokesperson would not provide any of the information used to obtain the secret court orders.
But a source said relations between officials in Quebec and Ontario have been hampered all along by poor communications and a sense that the child protection agency in Chatham-Kent has not shared the urgency of Baraby’s investigators. That seems to have changed in recent weeks after the various attempts by Lev Tahor members to flee their legal problems by escaping the country, the source said.
Stephen Doig, executive director of Chatham-Kent Children’s Services, explained there was a joint Ontario-Quebec consensus that the priority should be to carry out the original order relating to the 14 Lev Tahor children. That was an obvious choice, Doig said, because a Quebec judge had already made a ruling based on the evidence and testimony of social workers and a former Lev Tahor member.
But Doig said that the differences in child welfare laws in Ontario and Quebec resulted in “uncertainty” about how or whether his office could act on the other judicial orders obtained in Quebec.
“Another factor is that any Ontario law enforcement agency would require either a ‘Canada-wide warrant’ or an Ontario court order to assist in the removal of children where there was likely to be physical resistance from the parents,” Doig said.