Ontario court Justice Stephen Fuerth said that he will decide on Februrary 3rd. whether he has the jurisdiction to enforce a Quebec ruling that the Lev Tahor children be taken from their parents’ care.
The Lev Tahor community was located in Ste.-Agathe, Quebec and were the subject of Provincial child protection orders on complaints that included inadequate education, physical abuse and inadequate health care and hygiene. Faced with the prospect of 14 of its children being removed and placed in the care of Quebec child care authorities, the community whisked three busloads of families out of Quebec to Chatham, Ontario in the middle of the night last November.
Child welfare authorities in Chatham are now asking the court to enforce a Quebec order that would see 14 children placed in foster care in Quebec. The order is also being appealed in Quebec.
Lev Tahor through its lawyer, insists the Ontario court does not have the right to rule on this matter and that the Children’s Aid Society in Chatham has no legal jurisdiction to ask the court to enforce the Quebec court order. He is also arguing that the families’ Constitutional mobility rights and religious freedoms are being violated with the implementation of the proposed Charter of Values of Quebec which would restrict the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols such as turbans and hijabs. Chris Knowles, the lawyer acting on behalf of Lev Tahor further commented:
“When we’re talking about religious rights what you’re being asked to do is to send these children back to a province which I submit has chosen to place religious rights beneath other rights,” … “So I do think it’s relevant to your determination of what is in these children’s best interests.”
First of all I emphatically oppose Quebec’s Charter of Values. But using the same Charter of Values, one can easily shoot down Knowles’ assertion. The proposed Quebec Charter of Values would restrict the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols by public employees. How many public employees are members of Lev Tahor? If members are required to personally interact or conduct business with any Quebec public sector employee, who is not allowed to wear any conspicuous religious symbol, how can this intimidate a member of the sect? Wouldn’t they feel less intimidated, if anything?
Knowles and Lev Tahor are playing the human rights card; while the Chatham-Kent Children’s Services’ is playing its child protection card.
I hope that Lev Tahor knows that the Ontario Human Rights Code is primarily applicable to persons over the age of 18 years, unless they are 16 or 17 years of age, and have withdrawn from parental control. How can the Human Rights Code be applied to an 8 year old who suffers from poor hygiene and health as a result of the actions of the sect?
I commend the local Children’s Aid Society’s position on this matter. They are playing a tough game. They agree that there is no specific avenue under the Child and Family Services Act for the Ontario court to enforce Quebec’s order, but have pointed to other legislation under which the Ontario court could make an order.
Allegations of child abuse and mistreatment against Lev Tahor include:
– Fungal foot infections because women are not allowed to remove their socks.
– Girls as young as 14 married off to older men.
– Reports of some bruises on one child.
– Administering melatonin to kids to calm them.
– Isolation, children not allowed outdoor play.
– Concern about a possible collective suicide pact.
– Night-time exodus reports of crying, screaming, throwing belongings into garbage bags,
– Women and children being physically and emotionally abused.
– Frightened children being sedated for the 14-hour trip.
As a society, we have an obligation to protect the vulnerable. In this case the vulnerable are the children of Lev Tahor. This obligation should supersede any claims of discrimination and human rights which are made on the basis of convenience.
Chatham-Kent Children’s Services’ lawyer Loree Hodgson-Harris went on to correctly describe the situation as that:
“We can’t allow in this country people to just pick up and leave because they don’t like the process or they don’t want to comply and it was pretty clear from the evidence that they weren’t going to comply.”
Clearly, they did not intend to comply with Quebec child welfare authorities, and intended to thumb their noses at them by making a run for it at the last minute. It was a planned move, to skirt the authority of Quebec officials and move at the last possible moment before Quebec child services authorities would take action. They even left jewelry and credit cards behind, and one coffee maker was left on, which indicates that they stole off into the night to avoid prosecution and escape the jurisdiction of the Quebec’s courts.