A Quebec youth court has ordered 14 children from the ultra-orthodox Jewish cult Lev Tahor be placed temporarily in foster care, undergo medical examinations and receive psychological support, CBC News reported Wednesday.
The court also ordered that the children's parents hand in their passports, CBC said, amid reports that the sect was planning to flee Quebec.
The court order was prompted by a request filed by Quebec's youth protection services that the children be removed from their families and put in foster homes, CBC said.
Authorities alleged that the 14 children from two families in Lev Tahor, a Haredi sect that was classified a cult by an Israeli NGO specializing in cults, were living in dirty houses littered with garbage and that the children, who were home-schooled, were unable to do basic math and many could neither speak French nor English, CBC News reported.
The group Lev Tahor, or "Pure Heart", with its 200 members of which more than 130 are children, left their homes in Ste-Agathe-des-Monts, Quebec, early last week, reportedly out of fear that welfare authorities would take their children. It was suspected that their fears arose after a dispute with Quebec education authorities over the contents of the children's homeschool education.
The group was planning to make its home in Chatham-Kent, a southwestern Ontario town of 108,000, Canadian media reported over the weekend. Many of the families have already leased homes in the community, the Toronto Star reported.
The evidence about the cult, headed by Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, a newly religious Israeli who left Israel with a group of followers in 1990, began to accumulate over the past 18 months, following a feature in Haaretz’s weekend supplement.
During this time, families of community members filed complaints with the police of child abuse and misuse of psychiatric drugs to control cult members, as well as the kidnapping of children from their families in Israel and the forced marriages of 14-year-old girls with adult men.
On Tuesday the Knesset’s Committee on the Rights of the Child held a hearing on Lev Tahor, and families of the cult members as well as MKs slammed the State Prosecutor’s Office for dragging its feet in the case.
Police and prosecutors say that since early last year they have been examining complaints and testimonies about Lev Tahor, made up mostly of those filed by Israelis, but that there are legal obstacles to any action being taken in Canada.