Police in the Canadian province of Quebec believe that members of the radical, ultra-Orthodox Lev Tahor sect were involved in human trafficking and forgery, according to court documents released on Wednesday. The case has been widely reported in the Canadian media.
The sect of some 250 people, also known as the "Jewish Taliban" because female members wear a black gown resembling a burqa, lived in the Quebec town of Ste-Agathe-des-Monts for about a decade before authorities were alerted in 2012 by reports of widespread abuse and neglect of children.
The community fled en masse to a town in the Canadian province of Ontario, before going on to the Central American country of Guatemala. According to recent reports, they have since fallen out with their neighbors in a small Guatemalan village and are moving on.
Search warrants released by a Quebec judge on Wednesday allege members of the community falsified government documents, and engaged in human trafficking.
They also indicate that investigators were assisted by Interpol and Israeli authorities in building a case against the sect.
The allegations in the document have not been tested in court and no member of Lev Tahor has been charged in connection to them.
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The case against Lev Tahor began in April of 2012, after Quebec police received a letter from the lawyer of Nathan Helbrans, the adult son of the group’s leader, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans. Nathan had left the sect earlier that year, telling Israeli media his resistance to orders brought him in conflict with the community’s leaders. Several members twisted his legs until they broke, he said.
Among the allegations made by Nathan Helbrans were: The use of physical force as a method of punishment during classes for children; the forcible marriage of teenage girls to older men; the forcible removal of children from their families and their placement with other families; the coerced taking of psychotropic drugs and community control of all income.
Another Lev Tahor member, Adam Brudzewsky, fled in 2012 along with his pregnant wife, after he questioned the edicts of Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans.
Documents say Brudzewsky told police he was instructed to hit children to enforce discipline in the community-run school and that children were married off before the legal age of 16.
Brudzewsky also provided a USB key containing internal Lev Tahor documents and told investigators “he was forced to fabricate false documents for the Ministry of Education.”
Interviews with members revealed in the police document paint a disturbing portrait of life in the community. One unidentified person told police he was forcibly separated from his family upon their arrival there.
“He was placed with an unknown family ... he had nothing to eat; he had to beg,” the warrant states. The same person told of an incident in which a Lev Tahor member was ordered to hit a woman in the face because she refused Rabbi Helbrans’ orders to wear a long black gown resembling a burqa. The person told police all income had to be handed over to Lev Tahor’s leadership, and those who stepped out of line were forced to take psychiatric medication.