By Ashton Patis | Blackburn News | June 26, 2014Members of the ultra-orthodox Jewish sect Lev Tahor are slowly disappearing from Chatham-Kent, leaving behind only those with on-going court battles.All phone numbers for Lev Tahor leaders have been disconnected. The landlord at Spurgeon’s Villa in Chatham-Kent tells BlackburnNews.com families have left in the middle of the night, giving no notice of their move.“Guatemala is a country that has received them. They seem to be ok there. It doesn’t have the comforts of Canada, but then again Canada is not offering any permanent solution for these people anyway,” says Lev Tahor’s Immigration Lawyer Guidy Mamann. “Most of the families are planning to stay with the group. We can’t obtain any kind of group immigration, there’s no such thing in Canada. Few of them would actually qualify for Canada’s strict immigration criteria so they’re relocating elsewhere until they find a permanent place where they can continue living their lives together.”The group is made up of Canadian, American and Israeli citizens, many of whom were here on religious worker visas.“People are going to get the impression that they’re fleeing Canada or something, which is nonsense. They are here as temporary residents only,” says Mamann. “They don’t have the right to live in Canada permanently. They are required to leave the country.”Lev Tahor arrived in Chatham-Kent last November. The group fled Quebec after youth protection authorities started investigating members for alleged child abuse, underage marriage and neglect.The investigation continued in Ontario where a judge ordered 14 children to be sent back to Quebec and placed in foster care. Before an appeal could be heard in superior court those members fled the country, with some making it all the way to Guatemala where they remain.
Lev Tahor sect starts new life in Guatemala after fleeing child neglect allegations in Ontario and Quebec.By Graeme Hamilton and Natalie Alcoba | National Post | June 23, 2014 11:55 PM ETThe villagers in San Juan la Laguna, Guatemala, did not know what to make of it when the devout newcomers appeared, the men in long black coats, the women and girls in dark chadors despite the tropical heat.Their arrival sparked fear among some people in the indigenous community, who were taken aback by their clothing, customs and Yiddish speech. “There were even people who believed that their presence signalled the second coming of Christ,” Salvador Loarca, an assistant attorney in the local human rights office, said in a telephone interview last week.In fact, what appears to be occurring in the lakeside region about 80 kilometres west of the capital Guatemala City is the latest coming of the nomadic, ultra-orthodox Jewish sect Lev Tahor. Founded by Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans in Jerusalem in the 1980s, the group spent close to a decade in New York state and more than a decade in Ste-Agathe-des-Monts, Que., before fleeing to Chatham, Ont., in the middle of the night last fall as Quebec child-protection authorities prepared to intervene.With Canadian authorities scrutinizing the members’ immigration status (the adults were mostly born outside Canada) and Ontario children’s aid officials seeking protection orders, Lev Tahor leaders have decided they have no future in Canada. A well-connected source inside Montreal’s Hassidic community said Mr. Helbrans left Canada last week and Lev Tahor members were told to pray for his safe arrival in Guatemala.“There is no future for this community in Canada,” said Toronto immigration lawyer Guidy Mamann, who is representing community members in various immigration and child-protection files. “There is none …. Generally speaking, these people want to be together, and that’s going to be impossible here in Canada. They have some very bad memories here.”Mr. Mamann said “several” Lev Tahor families have already left for Guatemala, including a mother and six children who were subject to a court order to remain in the Chatham area. Mr. Mamann dismissed concerns that the children would be at even greater risk in the impoverished Central American country. “The children are fine in Guatemala. There are millions of children in Guatemala,” he said.“It’s obviously a country that is a bit poorer than Canada …. It’s a lot poorer, but children live there.”In Quebec, an investigation by child-protection officials last year revealed that children were suffering from poor dental health and fungal infections. They were not bathing on a regular basis, were not being schooled according to any Canadian curriculum and only spoke Yiddish and Hebrew. Girls are required from the age of three to wear the chador, which only reveals their faces. Youth protection officials also told a court that the community practised arranged marriages with girls as young as 14.After community members hurriedly left Ste-Agathe for Chatham during the night of Nov. 17, a Quebec judge ordered that 13 children belonging to three families be placed in foster care. An Ontario Superior Court justice ruled last April that Ontario had no jurisdiction to enforce the Quebec order, and since then Quebec authorities have been left on the sidelines.A spokeswoman for Quebec youth protection, Isabelle Dugré, said her organization “remains very worried about the situation of children who are currently in Ontario and Guatemala” and is prepared to provide any help Ontario requires.It appears, though, that once again the Lev Tahor children are slipping through the safety net, bound for a country where community leaders will not be hounded about following a specific school curriculum and where girls can marry at age 14.Mr. Mamann said the choice of Guatemala as a destination was last-minute, but a similar ultra-orthodox sect called Toiras Jesed has also been putting down roots in San Juan la Laguna.The new arrivals have sparked some recent tension, leading to reports on Israeli web sites that anti-Semitism had broken out in Guatemala. But Misael Santos, a member of Toiras Jesed, said the only violence involved some rock throwing and insults by a group of drunken youth.“It’s past. The young people came and asked for forgiveness,” he said.“What happened was a lack of information about how a Jewish man lives. Some people thought we were part of a satanic sect.”Mr. Loarca, the human-rights attorney, said rumours spread that the newcomers wanted to buy land and populate the town, at a time when the municipality was encouraging locals to have fewer children as a way to manage poverty. One woman at a community meeting called for their expulsion, he said.“This is a town of peace and tranquility. Here, no one is discriminated against,” Rodolfo Perez, the mayor of San Juan La Laguna, said. “They called us racists, but we have never had problems with these people.” He said the municipality, at the request of the community, asked the group to provide a list of its members in order to protect them. Mr. Loarca said the list was compiled “in order to gain some control, for their own safety.”A spokesman for Guatemala’s General Directorate of Migration said he is aware of one Lev Tahor family — the mother and six children who fled the Canadian court order — that has settled in San Juan la Laguna. Fernando Lucero said that upon arrival in Guatemala in March, the family presented themselves in front of a judge, who said they could remain free because they are not accused of any crime in Guatemala.“In terms of the laws of Guatemala, they have not committed any offence. They are here legally,” Mr. Lucero said. He said 90-day tourist visas like the one on which they entered can be renewed.Shelley Thibert, a spokeswoman for Chatham-Kent Children’s Services (CKCS), said there is little her agency can do once families leave the province. “We are aware of the families in Guatemala and have had discussions with Canadian Foreign Affairs as CKCS has no jurisdiction outside of Ontario,” she said.A Foreign Affairs spokesman would say only that consular officials are providing assistance to the families in Guatemala. He said further details on the case could not be released for privacy reasons.Back in Quebec, where a Jewish social services agency had been preparing to find foster homes for the allegedly neglected Lev Tahor children, the prospect that they will be beyond the reach of Canadian law has been met with disappointment.“We continue to be extremely concerned for the sake of these children,” said David Ouellette, public affairs director at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs in Montreal. “I would hope that everything is done for them to be protected.”
By Patrick White | The Globe and Mail | Friday, May. 16 2014, 7:07 PM EDTLeaders of the controversial Lev Tahor sect are scouting Guatemala as a potential new home in anticipation of a bitter exodus from Canada.
Mayer Rosner and Uriel Goldman, who have acted as spokesmen through the group’s many Canadian travails, are in the Latin American country checking on its suitability as a new base for the faction’s approximately 200 adherents.
The two travelled south to attend the birth of a mutual grandson, but their lawyer said the trip has a dual role.
“While they are there, they will explore Guatemala as a possible place to go, but that decision has not been made yet,” said immigration lawyer Guidy Mamann. “It could be Guatemala, it could be China, it could be Mexico, it could be France. We don’t know.”
The group’s resolve to abandon Canada, home to Lev Tahor for a little over a decade, comes as federal immigration and border officials are cracking down on the community for visa violations. Many adult members of Lev Tahor were born in the United States or Israel, and arrived in Canada over the past 10 years on temporary visas for religious workers, students and visitors. With so much public scrutiny, Mr. Mamann does not expect many visas will be renewed.
Last month, border agents arrested several members around the new Lev Tahor compound in Chatham, Ont., for alleged visa infractions.
More recently, passport applications have been denied or delayed for many Canada-born Lev Tahor children due to outstanding apprehension warrants issued in Quebec after the community flouted provincial education laws and then evaded authorities by moving to Chatham. The visa and passport problems mean many families face the prospect of being split up – the parents forced to leave, the children forced to stay.
The Quebec child-protection agency responsible for the warrants told The Globe and Mail they will remain in force until a judge is satisfied the “security or development” of the children is no longer in danger. A Citizenship and Immigration Canada spokesman refused to comment, but cited federal regulations stating a passport can be refused or revoked if a person is “subject to conditions imposed by a court that prevent possession of a passport.”
After several months of friction, relations have normalized between Lev Tahor and the local child-welfare agency. “The situation has settled down here,” said Stephen Doig, director of Chatham-Kent Children’s Services. “The Lev Tahor community seems to be settling into the Chatham-Kent community. Any involvement we have with them would be consistent with the involvement we have with any other family in Chatham-Kent.”
Last month, Lev Tahor members won an important court appeal, overturning an Ontario judge’s order to enforce child apprehension orders originating in Quebec.
Mr. Mamann said he does not know how many community members are in Guatemala, but a number as high as 50 has been reported.
The uncle of one child in Guatemala recently wrote a blog post about visiting the Guatemalan village in an effort to persuade his family to abandon Lev Tahor. He said that he saw a 15-year-old Lev Tahor member give birth on a dirt floor without a doctor. The post describes squalid, cramped conditions characterized by hungry, insect-covered children sleeping on earthen floors.
Mr. Mamann said the allegations are baseless, and supplied The Globe and Mail with documentation saying the baby was born in a health centre, and photos showing the baby sleeping in a new crib.
Chatham-Kent Children’s Services say they are aware of the Guatemala birth allegations, but have no have no authority to pursue it.
“It would be unconscionable to impose our legislation or expectations on what is happening in Guatemala,” Mr. Doig said.
By Jason Magder | THE GAZETTE | May 9, 2014 7:34 PM
Members of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect Lev Tahor appear to be migrating to the Central American country of Guatemala, according to several sources close to the group.
A group of eight — two adults and six of their eight children — relocated to Guatemala in early March, ahead of a court date in Chatham-Kent, Ont., that would have determined whether the children would be placed in foster care. Although their trip was in violation of court orders to remain in Canada, they were granted temporary refuge in Guatemala for up to 90 days. Now that original group has swelled to about 30, all living in a rural lakeside community. The family’s two eldest daughters are living with a foster family in Toronto. They were apprehended with another group that tried to flee Canada at the same time. Read more...
Embassy visit in Guatemala City no longer a condition of stay in Central American country.
CBC News | Mar 26, 2014 10:51 AM ET Last Updated: Mar 26, 2014 10:57 AM ET.
The Lev Tahor family that left Canada for Guatemala in early March is allowed to stay there with no special conditions — for now.
Uriel Goldman, the spokesman for the Lev Tahor group living in Chatham, Ont., confirmed Wednesday that the family no longer has to go to the Canadian embassy in Guatemala City as a condition of its stay in Central America.
The family is now permitted to stay in the country for up to three months, as stipulated by the Guatemala’s immigration and visa rules.
The group of three adults and six children landed in Guatemala on March 4 after they left their homes in Chatham, Ont., amid a custody battle between members of Lev Tahor and Chatham-Kent Children’s Services.
The family entered Guatemala via a transfer in Mexico City, while another group connecting through Trinidad and Tobago got stopped and sent back to Canada.
A previous judgment rendered by a Guatemalan court prevented Canadian and local authorities from seizing the children on an existing order from Canada. Judge Mariela de Leon ruled there was insufficient evidence to proceed with a removal order.
Originally settled in Quebec, the entire sect fled the province in November while in the midst of a custody battle with Quebec's Youth Protection Services.
Members of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect are expected back in a Chatham court regarding the custody issue on April 4.
After appealing a judge’s order to check in with the Canadian Embassy, a runaway Lev Tahor family was freed of that obligation.By Tim Alamenciak, News reporter | The Star | Published on Tue Mar 25 2014
A Guatemalan judge has ruled a Lev Tahor family no longer must check in with the Canadian embassy after they appealed his original order, ending their legal problems in that country — for now.
Six children, their parents and Yoil Weingarten, another member of the ultraorthodox Jewish sect, fled Canada ahead of an appeal in their ongoing court saga. Guatemalan police took the family to a courthouse on Mar. 14, kicking off yet another legal battle.
But it didn’t last long. Two judges ruled the children could stay with their parents. The second judge ordered the family to check in with the Canadian Embassy, but that was rescinded on appeal, according to the family’s lawyer.
Meanwhile, Stephen Doig, executive director of Chatham-Kent Children’s Services, says the agency is pursuing options to have the children returned.
Child protection authorities in Quebec have documented allegations of widespread abuse, underage marriage and a substandard education regime in the sect. The group has denied all allegations of abuse and insists the government is unfairly targeting them for their beliefs.
Before the allegations could be tested in Quebec court, 200 members of the group fled to Ontario, where a subsequent process upheld the Quebec order.
Fourteen children and their families left their homes on the day an appeal was to be heard. Eight kids have been apprehended, while six remain with their parents in Guatemala, staying in a small lakefront town called Panajachel.
“Yes, thanks God we don’t have to go the Canadian embassy anymore,” Weingarten said in an email.
Despite a history of fleeing jurisdictions where they encounter the courts, group members were allowed to retain their passports and Guatemalan officials made no attempt to ensure they do not flee.
Chatham-Kent Children’s Services said it sent Spanish-language paperwork to Guatemalan courts. It’s unclear whether it was received or to which court it was sent.
“We continue to work through Canadian Foreign Affairs to attempt to bring our court order before the justices in Guatemala,” said Doig. “Our understanding is that the Lev Tahor families’ appeal was only related to not having to present at the Canadian Embassy.”
“This continues to be a challenging situation for CKCS as we provide services to those Lev Tahor children in our care while navigating the international legal landscape. We are hopeful that the Guatemalan officials will recognize and enforce the Ontario order finding these children in need of protection and assist us in returning them to Canada,” he said.
Nicholas Bala, a Queen’s University law professor specializing in children’s law, said proceedings under the Hague convention on international child abduction, the act likely to be used in their return, take a very long time.
“My sense is that there are two proceedings going on in Guatemala, as there were in Ontario. One is the child protection process and the other is the Hague process. Apparently the child protection process there has ended, but the Hague process may well still be going on,” said Bala. “That in and of itself may take many weeks and, based on Canadian experience, months to resolve.”
Jeffrey Wilson, a prominent family lawyer, said the Canadian government, through the Crown attorney’s office, could potentially lay criminal charges because of the disobedience of the court order.
“The issue . . . is they clearly disobeyed a court order in leaving the jurisdiction. I don’t know why the Crown is not taking steps with the criminal act, because the criminal act will increase the leverage of enforcement. They’re in contempt of the order of Justice (Stephen) Fuerth,” he said.
Fredy Arnoldo, one of two lawyers working for the family, said the judge decided they were in Guatemala legally and saw no reason for them to check in with the embassy.
The court in Solola received no order from Canada, said Arnoldo, adding he is unaware of any other legal processes involving the family within the country.
The Lev Tahor family in Guatemala has filed an appeal against a court order that they check in to the Canadian embassy.By Tim Alamenciak News reporter | The Star | Published on Thu Mar 20 2014.
PANAJACHEL, GUATEMALA—A Spanish translation of Judge Lynda Templeton’s emergency order for the apprehension of six Lev Tahor children was scheduled to arrive in Guatemala Thursday, according to Stephen Doig, executive director of Chatham-Kent Children’s Services.The group of six children, their two parents and another sect member, Yoil Weingarten, fled Canada before an appeal was scheduled to be heard in the months-long court saga that threatened to place the kids in foster care.It’s unclear what role the new paperwork will play. As of the end of business hours Thursday, the Guatemalan court had not confirmed its receipt, Doig said.Guatemalan police descended on the hotel where the family was staying last Friday. They appeared before a judge who ruled that the children could remain with their parents and noted issues with paperwork from Canada. A second judge, who interviewed three of the children, agreed Monday that the kids could remain with their parents but the family must check in with the Canadian embassy.On Wednesday, the day before the deadline to check in, a highly priced lawyer hired by the family filed an appeal of the judgment. Even if the appeal is not successful, the family has other routes to gum up the legal machinery in Guatemala, possibly for months.Guatemalan law contains a mechanism known as amparo, which is a unique legal process that a person can invoke if they feel their rights are being violated. If the amparo is deemed legitimate, it can halt other court processes until it is resolved.One of the family’s two lawyers, Fredy Alvarado, declined to discuss the specifics of the case.Quebec child protection authorities documented allegations of widespread abuse within the sect, underage marriage and a sub-standard education regime. Quebec police have been investigating the group and searched several properties used by sect members earlier this year.The information used to obtain that search warrant detailed even more startling allegations, which have not been proven in court, including beatings with coat hangers, crow bars and belts, punishing children by confining them in the basement and a practice of moving kids from one family to another if the parents were found to not be strictly following doctrine.The sect has denied all of the allegations of abuse. They maintain that they are being persecuted for their beliefs.A court hasn’t had a chance to fully explore the allegations because the members of the sect flee the jurisdiction. It happened in Quebec first, when families were summoned to appear in court but found to have fled the province. The interprovincial move presented authorities with a challenge, but ultimately an Ontario judge ruled that the children could be returned to Quebec.Then they fled again. On the day an appeal of the Ontario ruling was scheduled to be heard, the families fled in defiance of an order that the children not be removed from Chatham-Kent.“We don’t disobey courts, the courts disobey our human rights,” said Yoil Weingarten, the man who travelled with the family and has been speaking on their behalf.When asked if the family would ever return to Canada, Weingarten said “it doesn’t seem likely.”The family is staying at a hotel on the outskirts of the city. A nearby open-air market provides fruit, vegetables and fish for their kosher diet. A local realtor said they were looking for a house and Weingarten confirmed as much late Wednesday night.When asked how long they plan to stay in Guatemala, Weingarten would only say, “we will see how it goes.”Guatemala offers tourists a 90-day stay in the country. A source within the government’s ministry of foreign affairs indicated the family had applied for refugee status. It’s unclear what their immigration status actually is.The Canadian government and child protection authorities have been working with Guatemalan officials, but haven’t revealed any details of the specific steps being taken to return the children. Experts point to the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction, of which Guatemala is a signatory, as a possible route.In the first substantive update on the situation, Doig highlighted the complexity of it.“The international aspects of the situation for the children in Guatemala have certainly complicated matters however we are working with the Canadian and American foreign affairs staff to determine next steps in this extremely unique situation,” he wrote in an email.
Guatemala is receiving court documents and evidence from Ontario. U.S. authorities are also being kept in the loop.By Tim Alamenciak News reporter | The Star | Published on Tue Mar 18 2014PANAJACHEL, GUATEMALA—The effort to bring six Lev Tahor children back from Guatemala includes Canadian and U.S. foreign affairs staff, in what the executive director of Chatham-Kent Children’s Services calls an “extremely unique situation.”Earlier this week, members of the ultra-orthodox Jewish sect used an attorney said to be one of the highest-priced in the area to fight for the chance to keep their children and stay in the country.The family, which remains in Guatemala in defiance of an Ontario court order that called for the apprehension of 14 Lev Tahor children, appeared in court this week. The children were allowed to stay with their parents, but the family was told to have paperwork signed by officials at the Canadian embassy.There were no representatives from Canada present at the hearing.“The international aspects of the situation for the children in Guatemala have certainly complicated matters, however we are working with the Canadian and American foreign affairs staff to determine next steps in this extremely unique situation,” Stephen Doig, executive director of Chatham-Kent Children’s Services, wrote in an email.Doig’s response marks the first substantive official statement on the measures being taken to return the children to Canada. He said the agency is providing Guatemalan authorities with copies of Ontario court orders and the evidence on which they were based.He said the U.S. government is involved because, if successful, the return flight would probably have to fly through the United States.Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs has only said it is working with the Guatemalan government. An official in Guatemala’s ministry of immigration told the Star the family is under the surveillance of the national police.The Lev Tahor family has twice appeared in court in Guatemala. The first judge ruled last week that the children could remain with their parents and noted problems in documents submitted by the Canadian embassy. The second judge, who interviewed the children, also ruled they were able to remain with their parents.Child protection authorities in Quebec have documented allegations of physical abuse, underage marriage and substandard education within the sect. More than 200 members of Lev Tahor fled Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, Que., in advance of a court order for the removal of 14 children.The sect has categorically denied any allegations of abuse and maintains its members are being unfairly persecuted for their religious beliefs.An Ontario court judge upheld the Quebec judgment in February, but placed a 30-day stay on his ruling to allow time for appeal. On the day that appeal was scheduled to be heard, it was discovered at least 12 children had left the country and the location of another two was unknown. Six children were apprehended in Trinidad and Tobago, including two girls from the family now in Guatemala, and two others were found in Calgary.Fredy Arnoldo, one of the two lawyers representing the family, declined to comment specifically on the case Tuesday. Hugo del Aguila, the other lawyer on the case, is well-known in Solola, the regional capital, and one that a local member of the community says is a high-priced attorney.The Canadian officials can take other measures for the return of the children, Arnoldo said, speaking generally. But even so, the legal system in Guatemala offers a special option to fight back known as amparo.“If you are afraid of something that goes against human rights (you can file a writ of amparo),” said a local lawyer in Solola. She said the country is flooded with such claims, but that amparo has the ability to stop any legal process in its tracks if the claim is deemed legitimate.Six children, their parents and sect member Yoil Weingarten are still staying at a small hotel on the outskirts of Panajachel, a tourist town on the shores of Lake Atitlan. A nearby open-air market provides them with fruits, vegetables and fish to satisfy the group’s kosher eating requirements.It’s unclear what the outcome will be if the family does not get the paperwork signed by the embassy. A secretary at the Solola court, speaking with the Star, said they would be in violation of a Guatemalan court order and then subject to a criminal proceeding. Arnoldo would not disclose whether the family would go in person to the embassy in Guatemala City, if the requirement would be taken care of remotely or if the paperwork would be signed at all.Under the United Nations Hague Convention, to which Guatemala is a signatory, countries have an obligation to return children who have been wrongfully removed from another country.Nicholas Bala, a Queen’s University law professor who specializes in children’s law, said the Lev Tahor case is moving relatively quickly, saying Hague Convention cases in Canada can drag on for months, if not years.He said it’s clear the judge in Guatemala found he did not have all the necessary information to make a decision Monday. He said it’s highly unlikely the family will get paperwork from the embassy allowing them to stay in the country.“In fact, the embassy is going to provide contrary evidence, because presumably, the embassy has been on top of this,” he said.Bala said it is a concern that the Lev Tahor members were allowed to keep their passports, given their past history of fleeing jurisdictions before court dates, but said it makes sense to allow the children to remain with their parents for now.“Removing the children immediately from their parental care can be very intrusive,” he said. “Who would look after them? They don’t speak Spanish. It’s unlikely someone can be found quickly to care for them, other than their parents.”With files from Jacques Gallant
By Erika Tucker | Global News | March 18, 2014 6:02 pmTORONTO –Six Lev Tahor children under an Ontario apprehension order have been allowed to stay with their parents after appearing in Guatemalan court Monday, as Canadian child services agents work with officials to retrieve and place them in foster care alongside eight others under the same order.An Ontario judge issued an apprehension order for the 14 children following a Quebec investigation into allegations of child abuse and neglect. The Lev Tahor community has claimed parents have done nothing wrong and are the victims of religious persecution.Chatham-Kent Children Services Executive Director Stephen Doig said his agency hasn’t sent any staff to Guatemala but is working with Foreign Affairs in Canada, the United States and Guatemalan officials to resolve the situation in Guatemalan court.“Working through the government officials, we’re doing what we can do to have them appreciate the court order that exists in Canada,” Doig said.The Guatemalan court reportedly didn’t find sufficient evidence was presented by Canadian authorities to proceed with a removal order. The judge let the group keep their passports and requested the family visit the Canadian embassy within three days of the ruling. RCMP referred Interpol Canada requests to Guatemalan officials, who declined comment Friday. A Canadian Foreign Affairs spokesperson referred a Global News request regarding consular involvement to Doig.But this case is proceeding “very quickly” by Canadian standards, according to Queen’s University law professor Nicholas Bala.“[Hague convention] cases often go quite slowly and unfortunately the history of Canada’s enforcement of Hague proceedings from other countries—including in South and Central America—is often very slow … [dragging] on for months or even years,” Bala said.He added that orders have to be proven in a particular manner, and it’s possible the Guatemalan court hasn’t received an authenticated copy, for example. He said the fact that Lev Tahor has been asked to attend the Canadian Embassy suggests authorities there are concerned with the situation and are dealing with it “fairly rapidly.”“As I understand it, the judge in Guatemala actually met with the children and spoke through an interpreter, and was satisfied they’re not in any immediate risk,” Bala said.Bala suggested there’s the potential for Lev Tahor to submit refugee application in Guatemala, a move that would delay the court proceedings significantly.“There has to be some inquiry, but the claim of persecution in Canada does not seem to be well-founded, but will have to be considered by the courts in Guatemala. Canadian courts sometimes refuse to send people back … because of threats of persecution,” he said, citing examples of parents bringing Roma children from Hungary to Canada who are permitted to stay.Bala explains the Hague conventions generally indicate apprehension orders should be respected and children should be returned, but there are two exceptions he suspects the Lev Tahor parents may argue: If a mature child objects to the return, and if there’s grave risk of harm from the return.The “mature age” definition is a child-based assessment, typically estimated at around 10 years old in Canada, but can vary. Letters purportedly written by some of the Lev Tahor children and sent to media in January suggest they prefer to remain with their parents, though the degree to which parents were involved in the writing is unclear.As to the next steps for Lev Tahor, Bala said it’s hard to gauge given the lack of information made available by Guatemalan officials.“It depends on how much the parents are willing to fight this in Guatemala and what their resources are for doing that. But Canadian Hague cases sometimes take years to resolve,” he said.“Yes, there’s been flight involved, but these are not criminal charges.”Two other sect families with nine members attempted to reach Guatemala but were intercepted in Trinidad two weeks ago and returned to Canada; two minors were also taken into custody in Ontario after they were apprehended in Calgary March 9.Doig said he’s aware of alleged hunger strikes that Lev Tahor claims resulted in the hospitalization of three children his agency had placed in foster care, although he wouldn’t confirm the reports’ veracity. Asked if it’s possible parents had told the children any food provided by outsiders of the community would be non-kosher or poisoned, he said the children have been put in “religious and culturally appropriate placements.”“Their lives are definitely not at risk right now,” Doig said.Lev Tahor community spokesman Uriel Goldman, who said he doesn’t know what the families’ plans are in Guatemala, suggests the order to apprehend the children is an act of persecution against the group’s religion.“The Guatemala judge was the proof. … If it’s so obvious the kids are being so abused and are in such a bad situation, why didn’t this judge see that?” said Goldman.But Doig reiterated that the order for the 14 children was reviewed by multiple judges in Canada who all reached the same conclusion.“All of the evidence has been reviewed by three separate judges: One in Quebec, two in Ontario—one of which was a superior court judge—all of whom felt that there was sufficient evidence to order the children into the care of a child protection agency.”Meanwhile, Global News and other media organizations are in Quebec court arguing for more documents in the Lev Tahor investigation to be made public – and trying to obtain access sooner rather than later as hearings get pushed back by several months.
The parents of the six children were ordered to attend the Canadian embassy within three days to obtain paperwork saying they are allowed to stay in the country.By Tim Alamenciak News reporter | The Star | Published on Mon Mar 17 2014SOLOLA, GUATEMALA—A Guatemalan family and child judge ruled Monday that six Lev Tahor children can remain with their parents, but must visit the Canadian embassy within three days of his ruling.The judge let the family keep their passports and made no provisions, other than the order that the family attends the embassy. They must return to Solola court with paperwork signed by embassy officials saying they are allowed to stay. It's still unclear what will happen when the family visits the embassy.Members of Lev Tahor, an ultra-orthodox Jewish sect, have a track record of defying court orders in both Quebec and Ontario. If they do so in Guatemala, their case will go to a criminal court.It’s also unclear what, if any steps the Canadian government and child protection officials are taking to request the return of the children. A court official in Solola said they were aware Interpol is looking for the children, but that the appropriate paperwork for their return to Canada has not been filed. No representatives from Canada were at the court Monday, said the official.Canada has been conducting its business with Guatemala in secret. The Canadian embassy referred requests for comment to Ottawa. In an emailed statement Monday, the Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed “consular officials in Guatemala are liaising with local authorities on this issue,” but refused to provide additional information.The family first appeared before a judge in Guatemala Friday evening. The judge saw no reason to remove the kids and noted issues with the Canadian submissions in the case. On Monday, the judge asked the three oldest children about their family and the situation in Canada.Child protection authorities in Quebec and Ontario have documented allegations of physical abuse, underage marriage and a substandard education regime in the sect. Lev Tahor denies the allegations and insists the government is persecuting them for their religious beliefs.Fourteen children and several adults fled Canada two weeks ago ahead of an appeal of an Ontario court order mandating that the children be placed in the care of children’s aid services in Quebec. Eight have since been returned to Canada.After Monday's hearing, the father of the children, whose identity is protected by the same publication ban that covers his children, was relieved at the decision to allow the children to remain in the family.“Thanks God, thanks God,” he said.Fernando Lucero, a spokesman with Guatemala's ministry of immigration, confirmed Monday that the Lev Tahor family is still under surveillance by Guatemala's national police force.
Lev Tahor family to appear in Guatemala court; spokesman calls attempts to retrieve children ‘hate crime’.By Erika Tucker | Global News and The Canadian Press | March 17, 2014 3:36 pm.TORONTO – A family from the ultra-Orthodox Jewish Lev Tahor sect is set to appear in a Guatemalan court Monday afternoon to determine whether the family’s six children should be returned to Canadian authorities and put in foster care.An Ontario judge has issued an apprehension order for the children, and eight others, to be placed in foster care. The Lev Tahor community has claimed parents have done nothing wrong and are the victims of persecution.Guatemalan authorities say Canada asked them to keep watch on one of two Lev Tahor families that arrived there at the beginning of March.The Lev Tahor members – six children and three adults – arrived in Guatemala legally on March 4 and have broken no laws in the country, according to Guatemalan immigration spokesman Fernando Lucero.He said Canadian authorities requested the members be watched since the children were removed from Canada during an investigation into allegations of child abuse and neglect.Uriel Goldman, a spokesman for the Lev Tahor group in Canada, said two families were ordered to appear in family court in the Guatemalan town of Solola on Monday.“No charges have been laid,” Goldman told Global News. “Two years is more than enough time to try to do something against the community,” he said, referring to an investigation that opened in Quebec last year. “It’s never happened because there’s no evidence there; it’s just allegations and rumours. … It’s obviously political pressure.”Goldman believes pressure started from Israel two years ago, which is what he said prompted the investigation in Quebec.“They didn’t find anything wrong. If you look into court documents, into reports—they didn’t find anything,” he added. This was perhaps an allusion to a letter from Montreal doctor Rachel Rubenstein saying she found skin irritations including a foot fungus after examining some of the children, but emphasized “unequivocally, that these problems do not reflect parental neglect or abuse.”Goldman said the six children in Guatemala are all siblings, and that two more siblings are in a Canadian hospital, apparently on hunger strikes after being taken from their parents. The children cannot be identified.“These two families—the only crime they’ve committed is to belong to our community,” Goldman said. “What is the punishment if someone does not come to court in child protection? Private jets with police with intelligence people on board to grab people like animals? This is a much bigger crime than not to show up in a family court: This is a hate crime.”Lucero said the surveillance applies only to a couple and their six children—aged between 15 years and 8 months—and not to a second family that is also in Guatemala.He said they were arrested in Panajachel last week under suspicion of having committed a crime, but released after appearing before a judge on Friday.A spokesman for Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs said consular officials in Guatemala had been in communication with local authorities on the issue.A Quebec court ordered late last year that 14 Lev Tahor children be placed in foster care.About 200 members of the sect left Quebec for Chatham, Ontario last year and several members left Canada for Guatemala earlier this month in the face of child custody hearings.Two other sect families with nine members attempted to reach Guatemala but were intercepted in Trinidad and returned to Canada.Child welfare officials also took two minors into custody after they were apprehended in Calgary and they were returned to Ontario.The group has denied all allegations of mistreatment.With files from Global News reporter Anna Mehler Paperny
Authorities in Guatemala agreed to a request from Canadian officials to keep tabs on one of two Lev Tahor families that fled Canada earlier this month, a Guatemalan immigration spokesman said Monday.The spokesman, Fernando Lucero, said the members of the Jewish sect were in Guatemala legally and had broken no laws in the country."The alert was given from Canada to keep the family under surveillance," Lucero told The Canadian Press in a telephone interview."No crime has been committed in Guatemala. We're waiting to see if there is a warrant from Interpol."The surveillance relates only to a couple and their six children — aged between 15 years and 8 months — not a second family that is also in Guatemala, he said.According to Lucero, the family entered the country legally on March 4 and Canadian authorities requested the members be watched because the children were removed from Canada during an investigation.They were initially arrested in Panajachel because they were under suspicion of having committed a crime, he said.They appeared before a judge on Friday but were released because there was no evidence they had done anything wrong.Uriel Goldman, a spokesman for the Lev Tahor group in Canada, said two families were ordered to appear in family court in the Guatemalan town of Solola on Monday.Lucero said he was waiting to see what emerged from the court proceedings.It was unclear why immigration authorities in Guatemala were only watching one of the families.Goldman, however, has said none of the sect members had done anything wrong."For these two families, there are no concerns about anything with the parents and the kids," he said in an interview from Chatham, Ont.A spokesman for Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs said consular officials in Guatemala had been in communication with local authorities on the issue.Court OrderA Quebec court ordered late last year that 14 Lev Tahor children be placed in foster care.Child-welfare authorities in Quebec alleged issues related to hygiene, health and that the children weren't being educated according to the provincial curriculum.About 200 members of the sect — 114 of them children — settled in Chatham, Ont., last year after suddenly leaving Ste-Agathe-des-Monts, Que.At least two Lev Tahor families then left Canada for Guatemala earlier this month in the face of child custody hearings.Two other sect families with nine members attempted to reach Guatemala but were intercepted in Trinidad and returned to Canada.Child welfare officials also took two minors into custody after they were apprehended in Calgary and they were returned to Ontario.The group has denied all allegations of mistreatment.
Children from a Lev Tahor family seeking sanctuary in Guatemala tell a Star reporter they miss two sisters already apprehended in Canada.By Tim Alamenciak News reporter | The Star | Published on Mon Mar 17 2014.PANAJACHEL, GUATEMALA—On the evening before a court battle that could send them back to Canada, the Lev Tahor family staying in Guatemala in defiance of a Canadian court order celebrated Purim, which marks the deliverance of Jews from persecution in ancient Persia.The young children, who are the subject of an emergency court order in Canada, ran about the courtyard of the Panajachel hotel, laughing and playing in the spring-like weather — oblivious to the controversy surrounding the sect’s child-rearing practices.But asked about their family, the children were clear in saying they miss their two sisters, who missed their plane to Guatemala and flew instead to Trinidad and Tobago. They were returned to child protection officials in Canada.“I want my sisters to come back,” said one of the older boys, the traditional curls worn by devout Jews framing his face.Another child, wearing the head scarf and long black dress worn by Lev Tahor females, was asked if she wanted to return to Canada, said, “No, because of child protection.”The children in the Guatemala family range in age from infancy to adolescence. All family members except for one young child and the mother spoke with a Star reporter Sunday in the hotel’s reception area.None of the six children, or their parents, who are both in Guatemala with them, can be identified because of a publication ban. The children did not seem fazed by reporter’s questions and answered in short sentences.Child protection authorities in Quebec and Ontario have documented allegations of widespread physical abuse, underage marriage and a substandard education regime in the ultra-orthodox Jewish sect.The sect has maintained the allegations of abuse are false and part of a campaign by the Canadian government and child protection authorities that is targeting them for their beliefs.The group fled Quebec ahead of a court order in that province for the removal of 14 children. They resettled in Chatham, Ont., sparking a months-long court saga that ultimately led a judge to uphold the Quebec ruling. He did, however, stayed his decision to allow time for the families to appeal.On the day that appeal was scheduled to be heard, it was discovered some of the children had left the country. The judge then issued an emergency order for their return.Six of the children turned up in Trinidad and Tobago and apprehended upon their return. Two more were found in Calgary. The remaining six made their way to this lakeside town in Guatemala.Yoil Weingarten — another sect member accompanying the family — translated for the youngsters, who primarily speak Yiddish.“I am happy in Guatemala if they will bring my sisters,” said the boy who spoke earlier.Weingarten had a scroll shipped in that contains the Book of Esther, a scripture that is read aloud on Purim. Giving gifts to other Jewish families is part of the holiday tradition, but in this tiny tourist town, with little noticeable Jewish presence, they had only one another to give gifts to.The children’s father went to market early Sunday to buy potatoes, carrots, fish and other supplies for the Sunday night meal. He proudly showed a reporter their spread of soup and baked bread.The father — a serious-looking man with a soft voice and occasional stutter — said he left Canada because he wanted to do what’s best for his children.“If I knew they were really going to help me, I would have stayed. They just want to take my kids away,” he said.He is concerned about the two daughters who have been apprehended by child protection authorities back in Canada and placed with foster parents. He says they have since gone on hunger strike and are in the hospital.On Friday, Guatemalan police descended on the hotel in Panajachel. They transported the children, parents and Weingarten to a nearby court, where a judge heard the case immediately.The judge, citing issues with submissions from the Canadian government, did not remove the children from their parents or order the return of anyone to Canada. The case was referred to a higher court.The family is scheduled to appear before another judge Monday morning in the regional capital of Solola.
2 families, made up of 3 adults and 6 children, will appear in court today.CBC News | Posted Mar 17, 2014 4:15 AM ETSome members of a Jewish sect who fled Canada this month are scheduled to appear in a Guatemala court today.
Uriel Goldman, a spokesman for the Lev Tahor group, says two families — made up of three adults and six children in all — have been ordered to appear in family court in the town of Solola.
At least two Lev Tahor families left Canada for Guatemala last week in the face of child custody hearings. About 200 members of the sect — 114 of them children — settled in Chatham, Ont., last year after suddenly leaving from Ste-Agathe-des-Monts, Que.
Child-welfare authorities in Quebec spent a year investigating issues related to hygiene, health and allegations that the children weren't being educated according to the provincial curriculum.
The group has denied all allegations of mistreatment and Goldman says the two families in Guatemala have done nothing wrong.
CTV News | Published Monday, March 17, 2014 7:04AM EDTTORONTO -- Some members of a Jewish sect who fled Canada this month are scheduled to appear in a Guatemala court Monday.Uriel Goldman, a spokesman for the Lev Tahor group, says two families -- made up of three adults and six children in all -- have been ordered to appear in family court in the town of Solola.At least two Lev Tahor families left Canada for Guatemala last week in the face of child custody hearings.About 200 members of the sect -- 114 of them children -- settled in Chatham, Ont., last year after suddenly leaving from Ste-Agathe-des-Monts, Que.Child-welfare authorities in Quebec spent a year investigating issues related to hygiene, health and allegations that the children weren't being educated according to the provincial curriculum. The group has denied all allegations of mistreatment and Goldman says the two families in Guatemala have done nothing wrong."For these two families, there are no concerns about anything with the parents and the kids," he said in an interview from Chatham, Ont.Goldman says the families appeared before a judge on Friday who said they could remain free over the weekend. It was not immediately clear whether Guatelmalan authorities were acting at the Canadian government's request or investigating the families independently.A spokesman for Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs says consular officials in Guatemala are in communication with local authorities on the issue.A Quebec court ordered late last year that 14 Lev Tahor children be placed in foster care.
The Hague Convention requires Guatemala to send back the six Lev Tahor children – pronto. But might not be so simple.Update on fate of Lev Tahor kids and parents who fled to Guatemala.By Wendy Gillis News reporter | The Star | Published on Sun Mar 16 2014For the 200 members of controversial ultra-orthodox sect Lev Tahor, the choice to move to from Quebec to Ontario last November had been a considered one: Members saw their new home province as a place more accepting of their religious freedoms.Why three adults and six children recently hopped a plane to Guatemala to flee Canadian officials, however, does not appear to be as calculated a choice.Though the Central American country has far from a perfect record when it comes to child welfare, it also has an international obligation to return the children to Canada. As signatories of the United Nations Hague Convention, a child welfare treaty, Guatemala has agreed to return children who have been wrongly removed from another country.“Guatemala would not be a place that you would expect them to go to,” said Michael Saini, an associate professor of social work at the University of Toronto, and an expert in child welfare, adding that other countries have not signed the same international agreement.The convention does not compel the Guatemalan government to wade into the issue of whether there has been abuse or neglect of the children. The treaty only requires authorities to determine that there is a valid Canadian court order regarding the children, and that they were wrongfully removed from the jurisdiction.Police in the Guatemalan resort town of Panajachel apprehend children and adults from the Lev Tahor ultra-orthodox Jewish sect on Friday after they fled there from Canada. zoomOnce that has been proven, Guatemala is compelled to quickly return the children to the jurisdiction where the court order is taking place.There are, however, several ways Lev Tahor could stall an effort to swiftly return the children to Canadian soil, an effort that resumes Monday when a judge specializing in family and child law is scheduled to hear the case in the Guatemalan town of Solola.The sect members could file for refugee status — something an official in the ministry of foreign affairs in Guatemala told the Star has already occurred, but that the country’s ministry of immigration would not confirm or discuss.They could also try to convince the Guatemalan judge that returning the children to Canada would pose a “grave risk of harm” to them, something Nicholas Bala, a Queen’s University law professor who specializes in children’s law, speculates the family is likely to do if they are aiming to slow procedures.Bala said proceedings could also be stalled by the simple fact that child welfare organizations are not accustomed to working with internationally. [sic] Cooperation across borders has been established to deal “reasonably well” with criminals or terrorists fleeing to one country to escape the laws of another, Bala said, but that is not the case here.“And so we see a lack of coordination,” he said. “Challenging as it is, we need better coordination, especially with these kinds of cases.”
Officials in Guatemala want proof from the Canadian government before handing over children. By Kelly Pedro | The London Free Press | Sunday, March 16, 2014 10:09:17 EDT PMA spokesperson for the Lev Tahor group is praising the Guatemalan government for how it’s handling the case involving six of the group’s children and their parents in the Central American country.“Guatemala is following the law. They want to see documentation. They want to see actual proof before they’re going to be separating these families,” said Pamela Palmer, who is working with the Lev Tahor community as a media co-ordinator. Guatemalan officials caught up with the children — subject to a court order in Ontario that they be taken into custody —on Friday. Officials met the families in a hotel room and listened to their story, Palmer said. The Guatemalan officials then referred them to a human rights group, the name of which Palmer didn’t know. She said Guatemala is now waiting for proof from the Canadian government. “Right now it’s just a big waiting game. The Canadian government has to basically provide all the proof in order for Guatemala to act,” she said. “They (Lev Tahor members) are still a little nervous, wondering if they should retain a lawyer,” said Palmer, who spoke with members of the ultra-Orthodox sect in Chatham Friday night. Even still, she said, they were “much more relaxed.” The members have been in Guatemala since last week, travelling under tourist visas. Palmer expects the group will file for refugee status, but couldn’t confirm whether they had already. Last fall, more than 200 Lev Tahor members fled Quebec, settling in Chatham, amid a child-welfare probe and accusations of child abuse and neglect. A Quebec court ordered 14 children from three families be taken into temporary foster care. An Ontario judge backed up that order, but Lev Tahor appealed that ruling. The appeal is set to be heard April 4. Despite an order to stay in Ontario, the 14 children vanished nearly two weeks with their adult minders. Six children were intercepted in Trinidad and two others in Calgary. Six others are still in Guatemala. firstname.lastname@example.org twitter.com/KellyatLFPress
A judge specializing in family and child law will hear case involving children of Lev Tahor sect who fled to Guatemala.By Tim Alamenciak News reporter, The Star | Published on Sat Mar 15 2014.
PANAJACHEL, GUATEMALA—Members of Lev Tahor marked the Sabbath Saturday in a small hotel on the outskirts of this lakefront town in Guatemala after a local judge ruled that the kids were not in danger and could remain with their parents.“They said that there’s no evidence of any danger for the children by their parents. There’s no ruling by Interpol to take them. Therefore, they’re giving the children to the parents,” said Yoil Weingarten, a member of the ultra-orthodox Jewish sect who accompanied the six children and their parents on their flight from Canada.Weingarten spoke with the Star as the group walked to their hotel from the courthouse late Friday night. Police peacefully took the six children and three adults to the court Friday afternoon, as they were beginning the Sabbath, a sacred day in the Jewish faith. The police officers “didn’t even know,” Weingarten said.The judge noted that there were problems with paperwork filed by Canadian authorities through the Guatemalan solicitor general’s office, according to a source who was in the courtroom. She did not take the passports of any family members and made no provision that they remain in Panajachel. Media were excluded from the hearing.A judge specializing in family and child law is scheduled to hear the case Monday in Solola, a nearby town.Child protection authorities in Quebec have documented allegations of widespread physical abuse, underage marriage and a substandard education regime within the sect. Before the Quebec case could go to court, more than 200 Lev Tahor members boarded buses and fled from the town of Sainte-Agathes-des-Monts in November.Weingarten said the allegations are just against the community and have nothing to do with the specific family. Members of the anti-Zionist sect have maintained they are being persecuted for their beliefs and that supporters of Israel are fueling the allegations. They have denied all allegations of child abuse.“(The father of the children) has never done any crime,” said Weingarten. “Never beat his child. Never any of these allegations.”After Quebec, they resettled in Chatham, Ont., where another court hearing was held and a judge ruled that the Quebec decision could be enforced, but placed a 30-day stay to allow time for appeal. On the day that appeal was scheduled to be heard, Chatham-Kent Children’s Services filed an emergency motion for the apprehension of the children after discovering some had left the country.Six children and their parents were stopped upon arrival in Trinidad and Tobago. They had missed their flight to Guatemala. They were subsequently returned to Canada on March 8 and apprehended. Two more children were apprehended in Calgary.The remaining six children are in Guatemala with their parents and Weingarten. The children and their parents cannot be identified because of a Canadian court-ordered publication ban.The group checked into the hotel March 9. Locals and hotel owners say the sect members were extremely suspicious of anyone taking pictures of them. A local real estate agent said they inquired about renting a house in the area.When asked if they would return to Canada, Weingarten said, “I don’t think so.”The group’s immigration status in Guatemala is unclear. As tourists, they can stay in the country for 90 days.A source within the Guatemalan government’s ministry of foreign affairs said the group applied for refugee status, but officials at the department of immigration heard of no such application and said, even if they had, they could not disclose any information because refugee applications are confidential.Weingarten refused to comment on anything related to their status saying it was a “private issue.”Meanwhile, Canadian government officials were continuing to keep quiet about the case. Questions sent to Canada's foreign affairs department, border services agency, and the RCMP went unanswered as of early Saturday evening.With files from Robyn Doolittle.
Not enough evidence to proceed with removal order, judge rules; group back in court on MondayCBC News | Mar 15, 2014 10:24 AM ETThree adults and six children of the Lev Tahor sect have been staying at this hotel in the tourist town of Panajachel, a few hours west of Guatemala City.Efforts by Canadian and Guatemalan authorities to seize child members of the Lev Tahor sect who left Canada two weeks ago with three adult members of the group have been blocked by a temporary court ruling.Judge Mariela De Leon ruled Saturday that the children can stay with the adults until Monday, when they will go before a family court judge. The temporary ruling found that Canadian officials working with the office of Guatemala’s Solicitor-General did not provide sufficient evidence to proceed with a removal order.De Leon also based her ruling on the lack of a rescue order from Interpol and the fact many aspects of the case were outside her jurisdiction.“Without further evidence, I see no grounds [for removal],” she said.The three adults and six children have been staying at a hotel in the tourist town of Panajachel, a few hours west of Guatemala City.The Lev Tahor members arrived in Guatemala March 4 after they left their homes in Chatham, Ont., amid a pending judgment in an appeal case.The group, originally from Quebec, appealed an Ontario court’s ruling that demanded 13 children be returned to Quebec and placed in foster care.Another group of three adults and six children were stopped in Trinidad and Tobago en route to Guatemala. They were returned to Canada last weekend.Child protection agency officials in Quebec said they were concerned about the children’s health, safety, hygiene and schooling.Leaders of Lev Tahor have always denied the allegations of neglect and abuse.
By Kelly Pedro | The London Free Press | Saturday, March 15, 2014 12:44:35 EDT PMA spokesperson for the Lev Tahor group is praising the Guatemalan government for how it’s handling the case involving six Lev Tahor children and their parents who are in the Central American country.“Guatemala is following the law. They want to see documentation, they want to see actual proof before they’re going to be separating these families,” said Pamela Palmer, who is working with the Lev Tahor community as a media coordinator.The children and their parents were not apprehended Friday, she said.Officials went to meet the families in a hotel room Friday and listened to their story, Palmer said.The Guatemalan officials then referred them to a human rights group — the name of which Palmer did not know. She said Guatemala is now waiting for “proof” from the Canadian government.“Right now it’s just a big waiting game. The Canadian government has to basically provide all the proof in order for Guatemala to act,” she said.“They (Lev Tahor members) are still a little nervous, wondering if they should retain a lawyer,” added Palmer, who spoke with members of the ultra-Orthodox sect in Chatham Friday night.Even still, she said, they were “much more relaxed.”The members have been in Guatemala since last week, travelling under tourist visas.Palmer expects the group will file for refugee status, but couldn’t confirm whether they had already.Last fall, more than 200 Lev Tahor members fled Quebec, settling in Chatham, amid a child-welfare probe and accusations of child abuse and neglect.A Quebec court ordered 14 children from three families be taken into temporary foster care.An Ontario judge backed up that order, but Lev Tahor appealed that ruling. The appeal is set to be heard April 4.Despite an order to stay in Ontario, the 14 children vanished last week with their adult minders. Six children were intercepted in Trinidad and two others in Calgary. Six others are still in Guatemala.email@example.com/KellyatLFPress
When I was given the task of finding Lev Tahor members hiding out in Guatemala, a country of 15 million people, with vast highlands that are easy to disappear in, it seemed impossible.By Tim Alamenciak News reporter | Toronto Star | Published on Sat Mar 15 2014.PANAJACHEL, GUATEMALA—Finding people is one of the toughest parts of a journalist’s job.When I was given the task of finding six Lev Tahor children hiding out in Guatemala, a country of 15 million people, with vast highlands that are easy to disappear in, it seemed impossible.When I hit the ground in Guatemala Tuesday, I immediately met with a local rabbi in my search for the children and their parents, who are members of the ultraorthodox Jewish sect. The Star’s Oakland Ross had helped me make contact with people who could help find translators. The rabbi, who spoke English, had little information on the whereabouts of the children, who are the subject of an emergency order calling for their return to Canada. The rabbi also said a local journalist spoke with a government source who said there was no record of their arrival.This would be the first of many encounters with Guatemala’s sprawling and dysfunctional bureaucracy.Members of the Lev Tahor ultra-orthodox Jewish sect walk down a street in Chatham, Ont. earlier this month while an emergency motion in a child custody case was being heard. Six children from the sect and their parents fled Chatham for Guatemala, where the Star tracked them down. zoomThe following day, I visited several government offices as well as the Israeli and Canadian embassies. The Canadian embassy referred my questions to Ottawa, where officials refused to give any information to a Canadian journalist trying to find children the Canadian government was looking for.The meetings with the Guatemalan government proved fruitless. In a country with a hundreds of child abductions per year and widespread violence, the location of six children and their parents who the Canadian government wanted back was low on the list of priorities.The next break would come when the same rabbi heard information that the group had contacted a lawyer and were staying by a lake. Lake Atitlan was the obvious choice. It is surrounded by small towns and home to Panajachel, a popular tourist destination.I got a ride to Panajachel immediately with my translator Luis. We arrived in the picturesque town around noon and immediately began talking to locals. Several had seen men dressed like Lev Tahor members so we knew we were on the right track, but the lake is large and surrounded by small towns.We searched one of those towns, San Marcos, but did not find any solid leads. I returned to Panajachel and went to the hotel Rancho Grande, where a spotty WiFi signal would lead to the discovery of the Lev Tahor members.I moved hotels because of the WiFi and at the new hotel the owner had heard from a tourist that the group was spotted in Panajachel Thursday. The tourist said they were at the market.With that knowledge in hand, I went to the market at 8 a.m. with my new translator Gabriel. We spoke with several vendors who were not very helpful, but then spotted the man I know to be the father of the children.We kept an eye on him at the market, but knew that he had come from the north of the city. There was only one option: A small hotel nestled in the mountains. We saw the children playing in the courtyard and knew the family was staying there.Police and other media came shortly after.
Lev Tahor children in Guatemalan lakefront town: ‘Everywhere they persecute us’
Six Lev Tahor children and their parents are staying at a hotel on the outskirts of Panajachel, a Guatemalan town popular with tourists.By Tim Alamenciak News reporter | The Star | Published on Fri Mar 14 2014.UPDATE: PANAJACHEL, GUATEMALA— Guatemalan officials have peacefully apprehended the six Lev Tahor children and their parents who were taking refuge at a hotel in the popular lakeside tourist town and taken them to a local courthouse. They are now waiting for a Guatemalan judge to hear the case, according to an official from the Guatemalan attorney general’s office. The official said it is up to Canada to file the appropriate paperwork for their return. As of 4 p.m. local time, the official said that had not been done. PANAJACHEL, GUATEMALA—Six Lev Tahor children and their parents are staying at a hotel in a popular tourist town of Panajachel and were being spoken to by local authorities Friday.Four police officers and an unknown number of detectives arrived at the hotel, on the outskirts of town, around 11:30 a.m. local time Friday.One of the detectives took a stack of passports, left and came back. It is unclear where the passports were taken. None of the members of the controversial sect, who fled Canada to Guatemala last weekend, have been apprehended by local authorities.Police officers on the scene said they are waiting word from the Canadian embassy and Guatemalan government on how to proceed. Two police officers remain on the scene.“Everywhere they persecute us and we have never done anything bad for anybody. Never have we done anything bad for the children,” Yoil Weingarten, a member of the controversial ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect who travelled with the family from Canada, said Friday.“We just want to have a relaxing life and leave us alone,” he said.The father of the children, who cannot be identified because of a publication ban, also spoke with the Toronto Star Friday.“I’m asking please that you close the case,” he said.When asked how long they would stay in Guatemala, Weingarten said only, “We will see.”Children, dressed in traditional Lev Tahor attire, were playing in the courtyard Friday. The mother, who also cannot be identified, was seen.Mayer Rosner, one of the directors of the Lev Tahor Jewish Community, has been in frequent contact with the members since they fled to Guatemala, and said he was speaking to them earlier Friday while police were present.Rosner described them as “calm” when police arrived, and said they were not surprised when the authorities arrived at their hotel.He added the group had not been trying to avoid police since they landed in the Central American country.“They have nothing to hide,” he said.The father and Weingarten said the children were happy and well-fed. A nearby market provides raw fruit and vegetables appropriate for their kosher diet.The group says they are being persecuted by the Canadian government after a long court saga over the removal of 14 children from three families in the sect culminated in an emergency order to apprehend the children.Eight of them are now in the custody of Chatham-Kent Children’s Services: Six were apprehended in Trinidad and Tobago and brought back to Canada, two were brought back after being apprehended in Calgary.The group in Guatemala approached a lawyer to assist with their immigration work, but said he would not take the case. They blamed the influence of Israeli companies.The sect says they are being persecuted by the state of Israel because of their anti-Zionist beliefs.“He has never done any crime,” said Weingarten of the father of the children. “Never beat his child. Never any of these allegations.”A source in Guatemala’s ministry of foreign affairs said the group had applied for refugee status. Officials at the ministry of immigration said they had no record of the application, but if they did it would be confidential.Weingarten refused to talk about any matters related to the group’s immigration status in Guatemala. He did not confirm or deny the refugee application.He said Quebec child protection authorities did not have allegations against the children’s father — “they didn’t blame him nothing what he has done.”“They just make allegations against the community. This is real persecution,” he said.Weingarten said the Quebec government’s main concern is the way the community educates his children.With files from Wendy Gillis
The six Lev Tahor children and their parents still missing from Canada have made their way to the Guatemalan lakefront town of Panajachel, according to a local rabbi.By: Tim Alamenciak News reporter | The Star | Published on Thu Mar 13 2014GUATEMALA CITY, GUATEMALA—The six Lev Tahor children and their parents still missing from Canada have made their way to the Guatemalan lakefront town of Panajachel, according to a local rabbi.The group has also contacted an immigration lawyer and is trying to extend their stay in the country, the Star has learned.The children, from families of a controversial ultraorthodox Jewish sect, have been the focus of an international effort to find them and place them in foster care.Child protection authorities in Ontario and Quebec are worried about the children after an investigation alleged they were subjected to physical abuse, underage marriage, forced medication and a substandard education.The sect, led by Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, has denied the allegations, which have not been proven in court.In November, the sect fled their Quebec homes for Chatham, Ont., in advance of an order calling for the removal of 14 children and placement in foster care for 30 days.An Ontario judge upheld that decision, ordering the removal of 13 children. One was 17 and not a child under Ontario law.Last week, Ontario Superior Court Justice Lynda Templeton issued an order to apprehend 14 children after it appeared 12 had been taken by adults in the sect to Trinidad and Tobago.The group was detained on the island for a period on Saturday before three adults returned to Canada, along with six children who were intercepted by Children’s Services at the airport. Two others — a 17-year-old mother and her infant daughter — were apprehended when they flew to Calgary.The remaining six children and two adults made it to Guatemala.Rabbi Shalom Pelman, leader of the local Chabad Lubovitch, a Jewish outreach organization with a house in Guatemala City, said the group contacted an Israeli lawyer but said the lawyer was not likely to take the case.Pelman said they told the lawyer they were staying by the lake.Locals in Panajachel told a Star reporter they remember seeing a man dressed in the Hasidic style, common to Lev Tahor, approximately a week ago.The lakeshore is dotted with small towns and villages. While Panajachel is a popular tourist destination, many other towns are isolated and mainly accessible by boat.An official in the ministry of foreign affairs in Guatemala, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the group had applied for refugee status.The ministry of immigration in Guatemala said it had no knowledge of the application, but if one had been filed, they would not be able to discuss it because of confidentiality rules.Officials at the Canadian Embassy in Guatemala refused to comment when a Toronto Star reporter visited Wednesday. They referred comment to Ottawa’s foreign affairs department, which did not respond.Justice Templeton will decide Friday whether to release a transcript and other materials from the secret hearing held in a London, Ont., courtroom last week.Templeton initially decided to exclude media from the proceedings but chose to revisit that decision when it became clear that eight were back in the country.Lawyers for media outlets, including the Star, argued it was in the public interest to release the transcripts. Lawyers representing Chatham-Kent Children’s Services argued that making the court transcripts public would disrupt any potential police investigation and cause emotional harm to the children.Documents used to obtain search warrants executed in February in Ontario and Quebec detailed allegations of abuse including confinement, sexual abuse and beatings with crowbars, belts, whips and a coat hanger.They also describe allegations of psychological control, teenage marriages, intimidation and threats of taking children from their homes if deemed to be breaking the community’s rules.
Members of sect have consulted lawyer about seeking asylum.CBC News Posted: Mar 13, 2014 6:20 PM ET Last Updated: Mar 13, 2014 7:05 PM ETSix children and two adult members of the ultra orthodox Jewish sect have consulted a lawyer about seeking asylum in Guatemala, the fifth estate has confirmed.They are now staying in the tourist town of Panajachel, a few hours west of Guatemala City.It is the latest development in an international effort to find children from families in the controversial sect and place them in foster care.Last week, other members of Lev Tahor were forced to return to Canada after fleeing to Trinidad and Tobago.That group, consisting of six children and three adults, aroused the suspicion of Trinidad and Tobago immigration authorities, the country’s Attorney General Anand Ramlogan told CBC News.Border agents prevented the group from continuing their travel to Central America and contacted Canada’s Justice Ministry.That’s when authorities in Trinidad learned that some Lev Tahor members were subject to a child protection order that was issued in Quebec.They also learned of a pending case before the Ontario Court of Appeal, where last month an Ontario court ruled to uphold a Quebec’s court’s decision that 13 children be placed with foster families.