Fleeing Lev Tahor sect members returned to Canada

Three adults and six children from fringe Haredi group caught in Caribbean amid reports of abuse

Lev Tahor girls walking in Chatham, Ontario, in December 2013. (Screen Capture/YouTube)
Lev Tahor girls walking in Chatham, Ontario, in December 2013. (Screen Capture/YouTube)

TORONTO — Nine members of the fringe Haredi Orthodox Lev Tahor sect who fled Canada last week were returned to the country.

On Saturday night, Toronto-area police and children’s aid officials greeted the plane carrying three Lev Tahor adults and six children from Trinidad and Tobago. The children were placed in the custody of Chatham-Kent Children’s Services, located about a three-hour drive southwest of Toronto, while border agents processed the adults, according to the Toronto Star.

The Lev Tahor members were stopped March 5 in Trinidad and Tobago, apparently en route to Guatemala, where several other sect members had fled earlier in the week. The children were among 12 in total who were named in a court order that sought to remove them from the community and place them in foster care.

Their departure was reported on the same day as an appeal was to be heard in an Ontario court of a ruling to seize 13 children. Sect members failed to show up in court, and the judge instructed local children’s aid workers to use all law enforcement resources to bring back the children.

Saturday night’s seizure of the six children “went well,” a police spokesman told the Star.

In Trinidad, however, things did not go as smoothly, according to a local media report.

“Members of the group of men, women and children did not all go quietly,” the Trinidad Express reported. “One elderly man had to be carried by law enforcement officials while another, a screaming female, had to be pushed by two women police officers into a waiting 25-seater bus to be taken to the airport.”

Sect members were stopped in the Caribbean nation because of inconsistencies in their stories, border officials had said. They refused to return to Canada and wanted passage to Guatemala.

In November, about 250 Lev Tahor adherents fled to Ontario from Quebec just ahead of an order to seize 14 children. Officials said they had evidence of physical beatings, underage marriage, forcible confinement and neglect. The order was upheld by an Ontario court, which exempted a 17-year-old girl but not her baby.

Both mother and baby are now believed to be in New York State. The fate of sect members in Guatemala is unknown.

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