TORONTO (JTA) — Newly unsealed police search warrants allege physical and psychological abuse, forced ingestion of drugs and girls coerced into marriage among the fringe haredi Orthodox sect, Lev Tahor.
The documents are part of applications for search warrants from the Quebec Provincial Police. They were unsealed on Friday at the request of several Canadian media outlets.
The warrants claim that a young woman in the sect said she was hit with a belt and a coat hanger; and that a pregnant 17-year-old told nurses at a hospital she was beaten by her brother, sexually abused by her father and forced to marry a 30-year-old man when she was 15.
Investigators were told children were forced to drink water mixed with an unknown green powder and that “all kinds of pills” were bought from a pharmacy and given to members without explanation, reported the Globe and Mail newspaper, one of the media outlets that argued for the unsealing of the documents.
About 200 members of Lev Tahor fled Quebec in November just before the execution of a court order to remove 14 children and place them in foster care. Quebec authorities said they had evidence of psychological abuse, underage marriage, child neglect, poor health and a home-schooling regimen that fell well below government standards.
Quebec police began hearing allegations against the community in April, 2012.
The community settled in rural Ontario, about two hours southwest of Toronto, where earlier this month a judge upheld the Quebec order, excluding one of the children. But he stayed the ruling for 30 days to allow time for an appeal, which is expected.
The police search warrants paint an alarming picture of life in the close-knit, reclusive community. One man was quoted as saying he was diagnosed with a personality disorder and forced to take medications. Another member told police about beatings with sticks, crowbars, whips and belts. “He was forced to take pills during meal times three times a day,” the warrants state.
A witness said he saw a woman struck in the face because she refused to wear the burqa-like outfit for women that has led some media to deride the group as the Jewish Taliban.
Girls who were 13 or 14 were disciplined by being held in house basements while girls who were 14 and 15 were married to adult men, the police documents said. Children were also taken from their biological parents if the sect’s leader deemed they were not taught properly, the document added.
“There are about 20-30 children who have changed families. [A person who spoke to authorities] said that some children adapt well and return to their families but that others are upset, cry a lot,” the warrants state.
The Lev Tahor’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, was convicted of kidnapping a young boy and served two years in a U.S. prison before being deported to Israel in 2000. He fled to Canada the following year on a temporary visa and was later granted refugee status.
An Israeli parliamentary hearing on the Lev Tahor sect has documented cases of physical abuse and said the sect is a dangerous cult.