MONTREAL - How did the Jewish group Lev Tahor slip through the fingers of Quebec’s child welfare agency, police and its courts to seek refuge in Ontario?
The province’s human rights commission will try to answer that question in a major study looking at whether the agencies that could have, or should have, intervened in the high-profile case had the necessary tools and collaborated sufficiently.
An aggressive child-protection investigation, which began last summer and turned up suspicions of sexual, psychological and physical abuse as well as children with health problems, prompted some 200 members of Lev Tahor to flee last November to their community in Chatham-Kent, Ont.
“It’s a study that poses two questions: what tools were used by the intervenors, and are those tools well adapted to complex cases like Lev Tahor,” said Camil Picard, vice-president responsible for youth with the Quebec human rights commission.
“So we take the example of Lev Tahor and we analyze the interventions in Quebec to see if they were well handled.”
By way of example, Picard said there is an interagency agreement that allows children’s aid, the police and other provincial agencies to work closely together on sensitive cases that will be examined.
Quebec researchers also have a meeting scheduled for mid-June with Ontario’s Human Rights Commission to address the aggravation expressed in Quebec that Chatham-Kent Child Protective Services, the police and the courts were unable or unwilling to act swiftly when the Jewish group defied a Quebec court order and sought refuge in Ontario.
“I can’t say that something’s broken, but we certainly want to evaluate it to improve child protection services,” said Picard.
As recent court hearings in Ontario threatened the return of 13 underage members of Lev Tahor to foster care in Quebec, a number of the children were taken out of the country. Some were apprehended at the airport in Trinidad and Tobago and returned to Canada. Others made it to the intended destination — Guatemala — where they have since reportedly been joined by other members of the group.
The Ontario courts ultimately ruled that the targeted children were best served by remaining in Ontario in proximity to their families, arguing that dragging them back to Quebec would be yet another trauma for the affected youngsters.
In addition to the Lev Tahor case, Picard said the study will look at other cases involving religious sects as well as the 2009 honour killing case in Kingston, Ont. that sent Mohammad Shafia, his wife and eldest son to prison for the drowning death of Shafia’s three daughters, Zainab, Sahar and Geeti, as well as his first wife, Rona Amir Mohammed.
Picard said the study should be completed by the end of the year.