TORONTO (JTA) — Most members of the haredi Orthodox sect Lev Tahor have moved from Canada to Guatemala amid allegations of child abuse.
Only five or six families — about 40 people — remain in the Lev Tahor settlement in Chatham, Ontario, about three hours southwest of Toronto, the London Free Press reported.
Much of the community has made its way to be reunited with sect members who left for Guatemala earlier this year. Others have gone to the United States and Israel, the paper reported.
“This story is going to end not with a bang but with a very loud fizzle,” Toronto lawyer Guidy Mamann, who was hired by the group last spring, told the Free Press. “I think we’re just seeing the last chapter of the Lev Tahor story being written in Canada in terms of their presence here.”
He added, “I don’t think anybody is planning on staying.”
In November, about 200 sect members moved to Chatham after Quebec’s youth protective services launched a process to remove 14 of the sect’s children.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corp.’s French-language arm, Radio-Canada, reported that the bulk of the families began leaving Canada one by one starting in June to join fellow members involved in the custody battle who had left for Guatemala in March.
Youth protection officials alleged that the children were subjected to physical beatings, poor hygiene, forced ingestion of drugs, underage marriage and violating the province’s school curriculum.
The Lev Tahor have vigorously denied all the allegations and say they are victims of a religious smear.
In March, 12 of the children involved in the custody dispute and six adults left Canada on two separate flights. One group of nine flew through Trinidad and Tobago, where they were intercepted and returned to Canada, and another group of nine traveled through Mexico City to their ultimate destination, Guatemala.