TORONTO (JTA) — The haredi Orthodox sect Lev Tahor has successfully appealed a ruling to place 14 children in foster care in Quebec.
The decision, delivered April 15 by an Ontario court, gives Lev Tahor, whose memebers fled Quebec for Ontario, a rare legal victory. It allows the 14 children named in a Quebec removal order to remain near the sect in Ontario.
The Ontario Superior Court overturned a lower court decision that upheld a Quebec order to place the children in foster care in Quebec. The lower court had delayed enforcement of the ruling to give the Lev Tahor parents 30 days in which to appeal.
Removing the children to Quebec “would be contrary to [their] best interests,” the higher court ruled, saying such a move would have “disastrous emotional and psychological ramifications for them.”
However, the judge said she had “grave concern about the health and welfare of these children and their protection.”
Seven of the 14 children named in the Quebec order are now in foster care in Ontario. They and their parents fled Canada last month but were forcibly returned from Trinidad and Tobago after a Canadian court ordered an emergency seizure order. Six Lev Tahor children remain in Guatemala, where officials have agreed to monitor their activities but have stressed that they and their parents entered the country legally.
The 200-member Lev Tahor community has been under constant scrutiny since settling in rural Ontario last fall when they fled from north of Montreal just before the children could be seized by child protection services. There have been allegations of poor hygiene, underage marriages, forced ingestion of drugs and physical abuse.
The community has denied all allegations, saying they are victims of a religious smear campaign.
The case will now go back to a lower court in Ontario to determine whether the children are in need of ongoing protection.