TORONTO — Police search warrants, recently made public, have painted an alarming picture of the fringe Orthodox Jewish sect Lev Tahor, including beatings, psychological abuse, forced ingestion of drugs and girls coerced into marriage.
The warrants, from the Quebec Provincial Police, were unsealed earlier this month at the request of Canadian media outlets. They were used to support a court order to seize 14 children in the Lev Tahor community north of Montreal in November.
But about 200 members of the sect fled Quebec to adjacent Ontario a week before a judge ordered the children removed from their families and placed in foster care for at least 30 days.
The sect settled in Chatham-Kent, a rural area about three hours southwest of Toronto, where an Ontario judge upheld the Quebec order, but stayed it for 30 days to allow time for an appeal.
In the warrants, according to reports by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, a young woman in the sect said she was hit with a belt and a coat hanger. Another female, 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.
The documents describe beatings with whips, sticks, belts and crowbars, and girls confined to basements, JTA reported. Investigators were told children were forced to drink water mixed with an unknown green powder and that a variety of pills were given to members without explanation.
Leaders and members of Lev Tahor deny the allegations and claim they are being persecuted for their religious beliefs.
It’s a “war against religion,” Uriel Goldman told Global Television, which is scheduled to air a one-hour documentary on the sect Saturday (Feb. 22).
The Global crew spent a week with the Lev Tahor and was granted what it said was “unprecedented access.”
The documentary quotes a Quebec Youth Protection official saying his team opened files on 128 children, documenting underweight kids, girls with fungus on their feet and unsanitary living conditions.
“We discovered houses that were dirty, garbage all around,” he said. “The children slept four or five in each bedroom, some (on) mattresses that were full of urine.”
A Quebec judge ruled Friday that the parents of 14 children can’t appeal a judgment issued in youth court giving the province jurisdiction over the families. A lawyer for the families had appealed on the grounds that the sect was now living in Ontario. A second appeal of the Ontario ruling to remove 13 of the 14 children is ongoing.
The Global documentary quotes Lev Tahor leader Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans saying that if the community’s appeals fail, they are prepared to leave Canada to protect their way of life.
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