Fleeing 'Jewish Taliban' Sect Members Sent Back to Canada

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Nine members of the fringe ultra-Orthodox Lev Tahor sect who fled Canada last week have been 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 those named in a court order that sought to remove them from the community and place them in foster care.

The departure of the sect members was reported on the same day as an appeal was to be heard in an Ontario court of the ruling, which originally ordered the seizure of 14 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.

According to one legal observer, now that most of members who fled have been caught, child-welfare officials may show Lev Tahor some leniency, the London Free Press reported.

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 the order to seize the 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.

The director of youth protection from the Quebec region that Lev Tahor fled from, Denise Baraby, hailed the weekend’s “positive and rapid developments,” but remained “very concerned” about the other children not yet apprehended, the Press reported.

Sect members are reportedly speaking out against the court order, and saying that it s part of the persecution that led to them leaving Quebec for Ontario.

“The only sin of these parents is they belong to Lev Tahor,” Uriel Goldman, a community spokesperson, said Sunday, according to the Press. “And because Lev Tahor have lots of rumors against them, not proven in court, is enough ground to take them . . . it’s just a legal game.”

The sect, known as the "Jewish Taliban" for their dress and anti-Zionist attitude, is led by Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, who served two years in jail for conspiracy to commit kidnapping. He brought the community to Canada from Monsey, New York, after receiving refugee status there on the claim that he faced persecution back in Israel.

Students studying in the heder.Credit: Shay Fogelman

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