It wasn’t your typical sun vacation to the Caribbean. After five days in a Trinidad hotel, barely eating because of the lack of kosher food and fretting about being forced to return to Canada, nine members of the controversial Lev Tahor ultra-orthodox Jewish community were sent back to Toronto this weekend.
They had fled Canada a week ago while they were in the midst of appealing an Ontario court ruling to place 13 of their children in temporary foster care.
The group was expelled from Trinidad on Saturday and flown to Pearson International Airport, where authorities took custody of six minors – five girls and a boy.
The six teens were under an emergency order by Ontario Superior Court Judge Lynda Templeton to be placed in the care of Children’s Aid after it was discovered that the group had fled their homes in the Chatham-Kent area, near Windsor, Ont.
After living north of Montreal for a decade, the community resettled in Chatham-Kent last November as Quebec authorities investigated them for allegations of child abuse.
Stephen Doig, executive director of the Chatham-Kent Children’s Services, confirmed in an e-mail that his agency’s staff were present at Pearson airport Saturday with Peel Regional Police “and carried out Judge Templeton’s order to bring those children unto the agency’s care.”
Another six children who were named in the foster-care proceedings have left the country and are believed to be in Guatemala. “The agency continues to work with various authorities to locate the remaining children,” Mr. Doig said.
Canada, Trinidad and Guatemala are parties to the 1980 Hague Convention. Under that treaty, custody rights are decided by courts in the country where the children usually reside. Trinidad and Guatemala therefore would be obligated to return a child who was wrongfully removed from Canada.
The Lev Tahor movement was only created recently so its members come from secular families who complain that their kin have been drawn into an ultra-conservative religious group. An uncle of two of the girls who were returned from Trinidad said the family remained worried.
“We hope that the Canadians are doing everything in their power to return my sister and her children from wherever they have been hidden. We haven’t heard anything from her,” he said in an e-mail.
A Lev Tahor representative, Uriel Goldman, complained that the Canadian government forced the group to fly out of Trinidad on Saturday, contravening Jewish Sabbath restrictions.
He said the nine had trouble keeping kosher while they were at the airport hotel in Trinidad. One member of the group, Mr. Goldman said, was removed by force and arrived at Pearson handcuffed, without his shoes and religious garment.
“They were treated like war criminals … it’s back to Berlin, 1939,” Mr. Goldman said.
He also said two members of the group are still detained by federal authorities and that they are facing removal from Canada.
Antonella DiGirolamo, a spokeswoman for Canada Border Services Agency, wouldn’t comment on specific parts of Mr. Goldman’s remarks but said that “every person seeking entry to Canada must demonstrate that they meet the requirements to enter the country.”