TORONTO (JTA) — Two children seized by Canadian authorities from an fringe haredi Orthodox sect were returned to their parents with strict conditions.
The parents, members of the Lev Tahor sect, agreed to scheduled and random visits from children’s aid workers and said they would not leave the Chatham-Kent region, in southwest Ontario, or use “physical discipline,” among other conditions. The agreement also specifies that one of the parents get help for mental health issues. The children, a boy and a girl, are both under 5 years old, the Toronto Star reported.
Child welfare officials in Ontario, where Lev Tahor members moved last month from Quebec, seized the children last week following a visit in which an official noticed a bruise on one of the children, a lawyer representing Lev Tahor families told the Star.
The children are not connected to a Quebec court ruling last month that ordered 14 Lev Tahor children, ranging in age from 2 months to 16 years, into foster care.
Authorities have been visiting the sect since they arrived in Chatham. During a visit Dec. 12, a worker noticed a bruise on the female child’s face. An accompanying police officer seized the child.
The judge who ordered the return of the children with the conditions said the mother denied it was a bruise and said the child had been playing with markers. Two doctors independently evaluated the child and told the court it was a bruise. The judge called the injury “relatively minor.”
“I have a picture of some cause for concern and, at the same time, some signs that the children were well cared for,” he said, according to the Star.
Leaders of Lev Tahor have called the allegations a smear campaign.
“We will still cooperate with child protection, like we said beforehand the first day when we came to Ontario,” said Uriel Goldman, a spokesman for the sect.
The sect, led by Israeli Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, reportedly uses violence and mind control. Most of its members are Israeli-born with children born in Canada.
About 40 families from the sect fled from north of Montreal to Chatham, about 200 miles southwest of Toronto, on Nov. 18, a few days before the Quebec ruling was issued. On Dec. 4, Ontario child welfare authorities sought a warrant to seize all the children. An Ontario Justice of the Peace denied the request; an appeal of that decision is to be heard on Dec. 23.