TORONTO (JTA) — Members of the haredi Orthodox sect Lev Tahor are slowly leaving Canada for Guatemala, effectively ending the group’s tumultuous situation in Quebec and Ontario.
All phone numbers for Lev Tahor leaders have been disconnected, according to BlackburnNews.com. The landlord at the location in southwestern Ontario to where sect members fled last fall from Quebec also told the news agency that several families left in the middle of the night, giving no clue as to their destination.
All indications point to Lev Tahor members settling in Guatemala, where several families fled earlier this year ahead of an Ontario court order to return some children to foster care in adjacent Quebec.
“Guatemala is a country that has received them,” Lev Tahor’s lawyer, Guidy Mamann, told BlackburnNews.com. “They seem to be okay there. It doesn’t have the comforts of Canada, but then again Canada is not offering any permanent solution for these people anyway.”
Mamann told the National Post newspaper that “several” Lev Tahor families have left Ontario for Guatemala. He said Guatemala was a last-minute choice, but a similar haredi Orthodox sect called Toiras Jesed has also been putting down roots in the village of San Juan la Laguna, located in a lakeside region about 50 miles west of the capital, Guatemala City.
“The villagers in San Juan la Laguna did not know what to make of it when the devout newcomers appeared, the men in long black coats, the women and girls in dark chadors despite the tropical heat,” the Post reported.
Some 250 community members settled in Chatham, Ont., about two hours from Toronto, last November after fleeing Quebec, where child protection officials had alleged children were subject to physical abuse, underage marriage and neglect.
The investigation continued in Ontario where a judge ordered 13 children be returned to Quebec and placed in foster care. Before an appeal could be heard, those members fled Canada, with some making it to Guatemala, where they remain.
A judge in Guatemala ruled that Lev Tahor had committed no crimes in the country and could stay. Sect members had arrived on 90-day tourist visas, which are renewable.
A spokeswoman for Chatham-Kent Children’s Services said there is little her agency can do once families leave the province.
“We are aware of the families in Guatemala and have had discussions with Canadian Foreign Affairs as [we have] no jurisdiction outside of Ontario,” she said.