MONTREAL - Just days before members of the radical Jewish group Lev Tahor fled Quebec for Ontario, child protection authorities received a list containing the names of underaged girls in the community said to have given birth to children fathered by much older men.
It was the second time in the same week that officials responsible for child welfare in Quebec had heard detailed allegations of underaged marriages and possible sexual misconduct within the isolated religious community of about 200 people.
It is not clear what came of the allegations, whether they were fully investigated and if they were eventually verified or debunked.
But just 10 days later, on Nov. 18, 2012, the vast majority of the group boarded buses in the Quebec town of Ste-Agathe-des-Monts in the middle of the night and fled across the Ontario-Quebec border to new accommodations in Chatham-Kent.
Their actions allowed them to evade a massive child-welfare investigation and criminal probe that is unresolved nearly two years later, with the bulk of the group now having resettled in Central America.
A few days after their initial midnight flight, a Quebec youth court judge ordered 14 Lev Tahor children into foster care, but that order was stymied by jurisdictional wrangling between Ontario and Quebec and strict legal boundaries that effectively prevented authorities in Quebec from following up on the group.
More than a year later, when Ontario courts sorted out who had jurisdiction to deal with the problematic group that some have labelled a religious cult, and when Chatham-Kent children’s aid workers stepped up its surveillance of Lev Tahor, they fled the country for Guatemala.
The information about possible underage pregnancies and sexual abuse was contained in a new batch of court documents released to media Friday.
The documents contain information about a police investigation into kidnapping and human trafficking charges against the group and were used to obtain a search warrant for Lev Tahor properties in Quebec in November 2013, nearly one year after they had fled to Ontario. None of the allegations about Lev Tahor in the documents have been proven in court.
But the police state that on Nov. 8, 2012, three months after child-protection officials began investigating their concerns about the group, they came into possession of a list of names purported to be underage girls who had given birth to children with men over the age of 18 years old, which, if true, could be a violation of the Criminal Code.