Toronto - An Ontario judge has ordered 13 children in an Orthodox Jewish sect into foster care in adjacent Quebec.
The children, who live in the Lev Tahor (Hebrew for “Pure Heart”) community outside Chatham, Ont., about two hours southwest of Toronto, were ordered into temporary foster care by a Quebec court in November.
Authorities in Quebec, where sect members had lived for several years in the Ste.-Agathe-des-Monts community, said they had evidence of neglect, psychological abuse, poor dental and physical health, and a substandard education.
But about 200 members fled Quebec to Ontario in November just before the order could be executed and argued that Ontario had no jurisdiction in the matter.
The Ontario judge endorsed the Quebec ruling to avoid ”jurisdictional chaos.” But he stayed the order for 30 days to allow time for an appeal. A Lev Tahor spokesman said the community would appeal.
The judge asked the media not to identify the children. Quebec had targeted 14 children in three families. But the Ontario decision exempts one of them, a 17-year-old girl whose baby is subject to the order. The judge said he trusts that Quebec will “make every accommodation with respect to this infant’s needs, including access by her mother.”
Last week, Quebec police, with the assistance of local officers, raided two homes in the Lev Tahor community in Ontario. Rabbi Nachman Helbrans, son of sect founder Shlomo Helbrans, said the search may have been an attempt to find evidence of illegal child marriages.
The sect’s name is taken from a biblical passage: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me,” Psalms 51:10.
A former sect member testified in Quebec that he had witnessed seven underage marriages.
The group has denied all charges and alleges it is the victim of a Zionist smear.
In a separate development, the case of two Lev Tahor children who were seized by Ontario social workers in December and later returned to their parents has been adjourned until April.