Jewish sect that fled Quebec says it’s being targeted for religious practices
Published Wednesday, November 27, 2013 7:13PM EST
Last Updated Thursday, November 28, 2013 7:59AM EST
An ultra-Orthodox Jewish community that fled Quebec for Ontario amid an investigation into alleged child neglect says it’s being targeted by authorities for its religious practices.
Members of the group, known as Lev Tahor, left Ste-Agathe-des-Monts, Que., last week for Chatham, Ont., where they were busy on Monday unloading mattresses and appliances into new homes.
The sudden move has authorities on alert, as Quebec social services was investigating the group for alleged child neglect, including failing to provide proper healthcare, hygiene and education.
The group insists it’s doing nothing illegal.
“We treating them very well, we went to doctors, to clinics and dentists in Ste-Agathe,” Mayer Rosner, a member of Lev Tahor, told CTV’s Peter Akman about the group’s treatment of children.
The group came to Canada in 2005 when its leader, Israeli-born rabbi Sholmo Elbarnes, was granted refugee status. He claimed he would be persecuted in Israel for his anti-Zionist stance. Elbarnes had earlier served a two-year sentence in the United States for kidnapping a child.
Rosner says authorities are now targeting the group because of its anti-Israeli stance, conservative treatment of girls and women, and arranged marriages of teenagers as young as 16. The group moved to Ontario, Rosner says, to practice its religion freely.
“The nature of this community is to go back to the old traditions," he said. “Freedom of religion is important to us. This is something that in Ontario that is much more respected."
Jewish human rights organization B’nai Brith Canada expressed its concern for the children living in the Lev Tahor community.
"We have already been in contact with people in Chatham to make certain the children are properly taken care of, that their living conditions are appropriate," Frank Dimant said, B’nai Brith’s CEO.
Lev Tahor – which consists of 40 families, many with more than five children — has rented 15 homes in Chatham. While there are unconfirmed reports that only five members are legally in Canada and that nearly 140 children in the group of 200 have no identification or passports, the group says it plans on staying there.
Renee Cowell of the Chatham-Kent Police Service told CTV that the agency is aware that the group is in Chatham and are “working with various agencies on the matter."
With a report from CTV's Peter Akman and files from The Canadian Press