An Ontario judge chided several members of the ultra-orthodox Lev Tahor group for impeding and evading court proceedings during the latest instalment in the group's ongoing legal battles.
"The conduct of the [Lev Tahor] community has not raised any trust that you will remain within jurisdiction of this court," Justice Lynda Templeton said directly to three members of the community sitting in court. "I can guarantee you will receive fair hearings, but you must allow the court to do its work."
The families were in court to appeal a court order originating in Quebec that would hand over custody of 14 Lev Tahor children to a Quebec children's services agency.
Justice Templeton adjourned the appeal arguments until next week to allow all sides to examine new evidence. Until then, she granted the Lev Tahor families extended supervised access to all children currently under agency care.
Eight minors were apprehended by Chatham-Kent Children's Services after fleeing Ontario with their families just days ahead of a previous appeal date. One family made it to Guatemala with six children, while the others were turned back by airport officials in Trinidad and Calgary.
The group has a history of fleeing unfavourable situations at the first hint of legal troubles. Around 200 members fled Quebec in November when child-welfare workers there began scrutinizing the group closely. Previously, they migrated from Israel to Brooklyn and back to Israel before moving to Canada in the early 2000s.
"This whole thing would never have blown up if they had just gone on with proceedings in Quebec and not tried to flee," said Denis Baraby, director of the child protection agency in Quebec.
Justice Templeton implored the families to trust the legal process rather than try to escape it. "Your children are not Lev Tahor children to me, they are just children," she said. "I don't see them as religious entities or gender entities. I do not see them as any entities other than small human beings who have rights."
Child-services agencies in both provinces allege that Lev Tahor has inadequate health, hygiene and education standards, accusations the group has vehemently denied through its three community leaders. Justice Templeton urged the parents to speak for themselves rather than leave it to the leaders.
"The allegations before this court are that parents are failing their obligations," she said. "The leaders of the community cannot answer those allegations, only the parents can. That is the frustrating part of this process. No matter what leaders say I am not interested. I am interested only in the well-being of the children."