CHATHAM, Ont. — About 200 members of a reclusive Jewish sect known in Israel as the 'Jewish Taliban' have fled their Quebec compound amid a child-protection probe.
Israeli media have previously reported that the ultra-orthodox Lev Tahor group engages in forced marriages.
Child protection services north of Montreal had issued a summons for Lev Tahor members to appear before youth court on Thursday on allegations of child abuse.
The Lev Tahor group, which includes 130 children, abandoned their homes in Sainte-Agathe des-Monts, Que., on Monday evening.
They hired buses that transported them to Chatham, Ont., near Windsor.
Mayer Rosner, a 37-year-old director of the group, who dress entirely in black robes, told QMI Agency on Friday the move was a result of a lack of religious and education freedom in Quebec.
"We have lived in Quebec for the past 12 years but it has only been the last two years that we've had problems with the ministry of education and family services," he said.
Rosner denied reports of any child abuse.
"We've heard all the complaints that we are doing bad things to children," he said. "It's not true."
Stephen Doig, interim executive director of Chatham-Kent Children's Services, said: "This group is quite visible in the Chatham-Kent community and we are aware of their arrival but cannot at this point comment further.
"We are aware they are in our community and have been in communication with the Quebec authorities," he added.
The group opposes Zionism and the state of Israel, claiming that the Torah instructs Jews to remain in exile until the coming of the Messiah.
The group founder, Rabbi Schlomo Helbrans, 51, has been the focus of previous police attention, according to a lengthy investigation of the Lev Tahor sect published in the Times of Israel on Wednesday.
The report alleges Israeli-born Helbrans served two years in a U.S. prison in 1994 for kidnapping a young boy.
The newspaper also said infants and toddlers were removed from their parents in the sect and that girls were sometimes married off to men more than twice their age.
Rosner said the group chose to move to Ontario because the province respects the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
"We have tried to compromise with officials in Quebec and had child-care people come and visit and found no problems," he said. "Other Jewish groups in Quebec have also had the same problems as us."